Pitt, UConn Share More Than Record

Listen closely, but it can be hard to differentiate between Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni and Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham as they talk about their football teams.

Perhaps it is because they are both in the first season of building their programs. Maybe it is because the process of installing new systems is taking a bit longer than expected – especially on the offensive side of the line. Or maybe it's the fact both teams are 3-4 overall and 1-1 in the Big East heading their showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Wednesday night (8 p.m., ESPN).

UConn fans have heard Pasqualoni talk about the growing pains, the penalties, the lack of execution, the injuries, and guarding against giving up the big play.

Now listen to Graham.

"Obviously, we've lost some close football games," Graham said Monday. "At times it has gone very well. It has been slow going, slower than I want it to be offensively. We've been inconsistent. We went out and put 44 [points] on South Florida, then came back and struggled.

"Injuries have played a factor in that. We've made great progress with everything we do in this program. We've built strong relationships. But our goal and our expectation at Pitt is to win championships. That goal is still on the board, so we'll evaluate it at the end of the season."

The winner Wednesday moves into a tie for second place in the Big East with Rutgers. The loser falls to seventh place at 1-2, just ahead of last place South Florida (0-3). Both teams have had 10 days to get ready. UConn beat USF in its last game but Pitt has lost its last two and four of five.

Considering the turbulence both teams have encountered, they should consider themselves lucky to be in this position in the conference race. Graham said the Panthers used the extra time off to heal some injuries and focus on fundamentals while hoping to matc UConn's discipline.

"We're playing a team that just figures out how to win football games," Graham said. Very disciplined, very tough. Very well coached football team in UConn, defending Big East champions from last year. Our guys are very, very focused and know this is a critical game.

"At 3-4 we are not where we want to be. Now it's Big East time. We've got to figure out a way to win."

Graham arrived at Pitt from Tulsa, where in four years he had three 10-win seasons and a 3-0 record in bowl games. His Tulsa teams led the nation in total offense twice and he came to Pitt promising a hurry-up style that would light up the scoreboard. But after opening the season by scoring 35 points in wins over both Buffalo and Maine, Pitt has been held to 10 points against Rutgers and 14 points against Utah after that 44-point explosion against USF.

Pasqualoni thinks Pitt, much like UConn, could have a much better record – with a couple of breaks.

"One play here or there and they win those [Rutgers and Utah] games," Pasqualoni said. "They're a good team. They are very aggressive on defense. They blitz, they pressure you and play good solid fundamentals up front. They've got guys who rush the passer."

Graham is sticking with junior quarterback Tino Sunseri, who seems to be the biggest victim in the new offensive system. The Panthers are relying on running back Ray Graham, who has been outstanding as usual. But the offensive line has been a mess and Pitt is yielding 4.86 sacks a game - worst in the nation. Center Chris Jacobson has been lost for the season with a knee injury and Graham said lineman Lucas Nix (knee) will be a game-time decision.

Sunseri has struggled beyond the sacks. He is holding the ball too long, and has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns. (5). Mark Myers will be Sunseri's backup. Trey Anderson has had problems with tendonitis in his wrist.

"I think he's always felt like he was the guy," Graham said of Sunseri. "We just went through a couple of rough games, two games where we've really struggled. Injuries up front have contributed to that. He's been very positive and upbeat.

"I think we got some things cleaned up fundamentally that are really going to help us. We've got a lot of potential. Our guys understand that. It's just executing."

Linebacker Max Gruder, averaging almost nine tackles a game, leads an aggressive defense that is adjusting to a 3-4 scheme.

"We're not playing great defensively, just playing good," Graham said. "They went through as big a change as we did offensively. They've just been a little more adaptive. I really feel like offensively we tried to do too much.

"I always talk about going from A-to-Z. You don't want to do that because you're going to take a dip. We tried to go from A-to-M. We probably should have gone from A-to-G."

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