Football: Bennett shines during Blue-Gold Scrimmage

By Greg Trietley

A strong performance from running back Isaac Bennett Saturday afternoon made up for forgettable… A strong performance from running back Isaac Bennett Saturday afternoon made up for forgettable performances from Pitt’s quarterbacks as the football team’s spring drills came to an end.

Bennett, who will be a sophomore this coming fall, had 124 yards on 23 carries during the Pitt Blue-Gold Scrimmage at North Hills High School’s Martorelli Stadium, including an early 51-yard sprint that took Pitt into the red zone.

“He had the chance to learn a lot and grow [this spring],” Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said Saturday after the game. “Each scrimmage, at least the last three or four times we’ve gone pretty hard, he’s done some things that have been good.”

Pitt did not keep score Saturday and ran different situations for each drive, with the offense starting anywhere from inside its own five-yard line to the opponent’s 20.

Bennett was quick to credit the offensive line as well as his fullback — a blocker he did not have in the spread offense of Todd Graham last year.

“I wouldn’t say [I was] the star,” Bennett said. “My line and my fullback were blocking great. Everybody was working together, so they allowed that to happen.”

Chryst said that the running back trio of Bennett, Ray Graham and incoming freshman Rushel Shell has the potential to be special in the fall, but that it’s just potential at this point as Graham recovers from a knee injury and Shell has yet to play a college snap.

“I think it’s got a chance to be good,” Chryst said. “It starts with the line, and I think the line made some improvements this spring. Ray’s working, need to get him back healthy, and Rushel, obviously, we all know what he did in high school, so there’s also a lot of questions.”

E.J. Banks rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown Saturday, and Corey Davis had 42 yards. Bennett, Banks and Davis all averaged more than 5 yards per carry.

The offensive line, though, struggled to avoid false starts and poor snaps early in the game.

“There are moments you have to clean up,” Chryst said. “There are mistakes you have to eliminate, but I think we’re working. There are areas that we’re getting better — not where we want to be by any means, but it was a productive spring.”

Center Ryan Turnley said the penalties aren’t something to overanalyze.

“It wasn’t guys jumping on the wrong count,” Turnley said. “It was just a couple guys getting antsy, that’s all.”

Turnley also said the line has progressed well this spring in working as a five-man unit.

“[We’ve improved at] protecting the passer on a consistent basis, and not having four guys do it and one guy come free,” he said. “You have to have all five guys, and I think that on a more consistent basis we have five guys in unison.”

Tino Sunseri, who this spring separated himself as the starter from Trey Anderson, Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez, finished the spring game 13-for-27 for 147 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

“Obviously there were some mistakes,” Sunseri said Saturday.

Sunseri overthrew a wide-open Drew Carswell twice in the scrimmage’s first 20 minutes, but the quarterback said his struggles Saturday were more a timing issue than anything else.

“There’s still positives out of that,” he said. “We were moving the football, guys are getting open, we’re making the right reads and we’re making the right adjustments. It’s just finishing plays.”

Myers finished 10-for-16 for 167 yards and a touchdown, which came when he found wide receiver Brandon Ifill streaking deep for a 58-yard score.

Anderson went 4-for-5 for 47 yards through the air and also had a rushing touchdown. Gonzalez did not see the field until late in the scrimmage but showed good mobility in the pocket, rushing for 22 yards.

Several strong individual performances from members of the Pitt defense also highlighted the spring game.

Safety Andrew Taglianetti returned Sunseri’s interception 30 yards for a touchdown, and he also broke up a well-placed Sunseri pass to Devin Street on a crossing route late in the scrimmage.

Defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Devin Cook both had two sacks Saturday, and defensive back Jason Hendricks led Pitt with 10 tackles. Defensive lineman Khaynin Mosley-Smith had four tackles, one for a loss, despite earning double teams during red-zone drills in the scrimmage’s final hour.

With the spring game over, Chryst said his players will spend the summer watching film and hitting the weight room before fall camp opens. “I wish we had 15 more [practices],” he said. “It’s a good start, but it’s just a start.”