Football: Pitt’s offense shows improvement

By Lauren Kirschman

The Pitt offense showed signs of improvement at spring practice on Saturday and turned in a… The Pitt offense showed signs of improvement at spring practice on Saturday and turned in a solid performance in the team’s second scrimmage.

While the defense has stood out for most of the spring, the offense scored five touchdowns on Saturday, including a 50-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Isaac Bennett. Bennett, who finished with more than 100 yards on the ground, also scored on a five-yard burst into the end zone.

“I was really proud of the linemen, fullbacks and wide receivers out there blocking,” Bennett said. “I was running behind them. It made it easier for me.”

Bennett has gotten the chance to work with the first team this spring and has taken advantage of the opportunity with consistently strong performances. There will be more of a battle for playing time once Ray Graham returns from a knee injury and incoming freshman Rushel Shell arrives, but Bennett doesn’t like to use the word competition.

“I’m not really worried about it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing beside everybody, all the running backs. We have a nice, strong group.”

Bennett, a Tulsa, Okla., native, said he didn’t know anything about Pitt and the city until the school recruited him. When he came on his visit, he said Pitt “just felt right.” He was able to contribute at the end of last season when Graham and then-backup running back Zach Brown were injured.

He rushed for 69 yards in the second to last game of the season against West Virginia and 51 yards in the regular season finale versus Syracuse. Bennett said he was a little surprised by his ability to contribute as a true freshman.

As for the offense this year, Bennett said that the struggles and inconsistencies that have plagued the Panthers during the spring can be traced to simple mistakes, such as not picking up blocks and going offsides.

Sophomore fullback Mark Giubilato said that “everything really started clicking” for the offense on Saturday.

“We’ve been working really hard and watching a lot of tape,” he said. “Comparing it to the past, me personally and some others have been in there [watching] and really breaking it down.”

He added that the new offense took a while for the players to grasp. The Panthers switched from a pro-style, methodical offense under former head coach Dave Wannstedt to Todd Graham’s fast-paced system last year. Now, Pitt is transitioning to head coach Paul Chryst’s offense, which more closely resembles Wannstedt’s system but is still new to the team.

“It took a couple weeks to sink in, but today, up front, the offensive line played unbelievable,” Giubilato said. “Even from a running backs standpoint, when we get movement up front it makes the reads so much easier.”

Quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for two touchdowns. First, he found Brandon Ifill on a long pass, and then he hit Cam Saddler in the corner of the end zone toward the end of practice.

Backup quarterback Trey Anderson found Ed Tinker for the offense’s other touchdown.

The passing game improved as the scrimmage progressed. Sunseri struggled on long passes early, often over-throwing his target receiver. After practice, Sunseri said that he needs to get more air under his deep throws.

“Obviously I’m overthrowing them a little bit, but I’m not giving them time to adjust,” Sunseri said.

Saddler said that the quarterback and receivers need to put in extra work to fix the timing issues.

“Today kind of boggled all of us,” Saddler said. “It’s only practice 10 in a new offense, so with time it’ll get better.”

Chryst said that the offense showed better execution on Saturday, but added that there is still room for improvement. He said that while the passing game improved as the scrimmage went on, it could have been better.

“We missed three or four for sure to overthrown balls,” he said. “There’s good stuff to build on and, like I said, we’ve got to keep going and get a lot better.”