Football: Panthers has disappointing showing at Rutgers

By Roger Sepich

After the Pitt football team’s offense put up 44 points in a dominating victory over South… After the Pitt football team’s offense put up 44 points in a dominating victory over South Florida, Panther fans hoped Todd Graham’s high-octane offense would continue to perform efficiently and successfully throughout the rest of the season.

But in Saturday’s demoralizing 34-10 loss at Rutgers, the offense never found its rhythm, demonstrating that consistency is still missing from Pitt’s plan of attack.

“This was an extremely disappointing game for us,” Panthers head coach Todd Graham said in a press conference after the game. “Coming off our best game of the season last week, we played our worst game tonight.”

The Rutgers game was a disappointment despite efforts from Pitt’s star player, running back Ray Graham, who is now the second-leading rusher in the nation and has recorded at least 100 yards from scrimmage in all six Pitt games this season. The junior’s skills are unable to lead an up-and-down offensive line and unpredictable quarterback play, which has held the team back.

The Panthers’ quarterbacks have now been sacked a Big East-worst 27 times this season, after Rutgers sacked the quarterbacks six times in Saturday’s game.

“I can tell you that whoever we had at quarterback, the way we protected him, he was not going to be successful,” Coach Graham said.

Starting quarterback Tino Sunseri felt that it was his job to tough it out even when the offensive line was leaky.

“As a quarterback, you’ve got to be able to take the hits and be able to wipe them off, keep pushing and keep trying to lead your team down the field,” Sunseri said after the Rutgers game.

Despite Sunseri’s efforts, he was not able to shake off the Scarlet Knights attack. Sunseri finished the game with just 127 yards on 14 completions and threw three interceptions.

When Sunseri has been able to get passes off this season, he’s shown that he can help the offense be successful. But his lack of mobility has led Coach Graham to put freshman Trey Anderson in on multiple occasions.

“We were struggling to do anything, and we thought with all the pressure that Trey could move a little bit and get out of trouble,” Graham said. “We were doing something to try to spark our offense.”

The injuries to two of the best Pitt offensive linemen — seniors Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix — certainly haven’t helped the Panthers’ struggles to protect the quarterback. Jacobson is out for the season, but Nix might return in the next few weeks.

Knowing other teams will look to exploit Pitt’s problems protecting its quarterback, the Panthers enter every game knowing that avoiding sacks is key. But despite Pitt’s preparation for the pressure up front, the Scarlet Knights were still successful, finding the Panthers’ weaknesses and ruthlessly attacking them.

“We expected them to blitz,” wide receiver Devin Street said after the game. “We prepared for it, but we just didn’t go out and execute.”

Sunseri, who Graham said will remain the starter going forward, believes it’s the players’ responsibility to execute the offense.

“The coaches can coach from the sidelines, but the players have to be able to make the adjustments on the field, and we just have to keep getting into the film room and learning from this,” he said.

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