As Tino Sunseri goes, so go the Panthers (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Each week of the Football season I like to take the time to get a perspective on the opponent du jour. This week it is Pitt and that means handing the bulk of the responsibility for writing this over to Anson who runs Cardiac Hill, the Pittsburgh SB Nation site. On tap this week the Todd Graham experience, replacing Ray Graham and a rash of injuries that is simply not of this earth. Lets get to it.
Me: So Todd Graham, Are you on the boat with him or are you noisily firing rotten tomatoes at said boat?
Caddiac Hill: To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. I've answered this question in various forms over the year, but now with the season 2/3 of the way, I'm still not sure how much faith I put in him. With most rebuilding processes, it takes a while - particularly with an entirely new type of system. But the team has looked so good at times and so bad at others and that's what the frustrating part is. We've seen flashes that the offense can be potent, but we've also seen it at its worst. The difficult thing to come to grips with is that while the offense at its best is more powerful than those seen under Dave Wannstedt, I'm hard pressed to recall it being as bad as its been against teams like Rutgers and Utah. At this point I'm not in the boat or hurling tomatoes at it. Let's just say I'm sitting back and observing - and with the injuries to the team right now, it's nearly impossible to judge him accurately.Me: How does this offense go about replacing Ray Grahm and his roughly 1/3 share of the offense
CH: I repeatedly wondered aloud at just where the team would be without Graham before his injury - guess we should watch what we say. How does Pitt do it? I've got no idea, but the encouraging thing is that Pitt's offense played one of its better games without him against UConn after he went down early. If there's one thing I learned from that game it's that timing and quarterback play are everything. Graham's loss was big, no doubt, but Pitt compensated for it by taking advantage of short, timely passes. The backup Zach Brown didn't put up a lot of rushing yards, but Pitt repeatedly took advantage of him in the passing game with nine catches for 84 yards. I've said all year that while Graham is Pitt's best offensive player, Sunseri's the key there. The offense really does go as he goes and if he plays as he did against UConn or South Florida, Pitt can still be successful.
Me: The defense has done some shuffling since the start of the season, most notably moving Brandon Lindsey from his hybird OLB/DE spot to a full time defensive end. Is everyone playing where they should be now?
CH: For the most part, yes. But the biggest adjustment for the defense is that they've gone from a 4-3 to a 3-4. So even with Lindsey on the line, he's not been able to get as much pressure on the quarterback. And with that new 3-4 defense, Pitt's linebackers have struggled in the passing game ... not exactly a great thing against a quarterback like Zach Collaros. It's easy to see that the team is still trying to adjust and while they've looked decent at times, these last few games they've played some pretty bad offenses and young quarterbacks. The defense will have its hands full if it wants to stop the Bearcats' offense.
Me: Is Tino Sunseri the best fit for this offense or is there another option?
CH: There's no other option this season. Trey Anderson served as the backup and is a true walk-on freshman. Fans clamored for him, despite the fact that he didn't join the team until the summer. He eventually spelled Sunseri and didn't look very good doing it. Third string QB Mark Myers hasn't seen any action this year, despite being in the program last year. As I said on the blog, for him not to have seen any action despite the poor play at times from Sunseri and Anderson is incredible. The coaching staff must really have issues with him since he hasn't even gotten on the field this season.
Next year, Pitt has a heralded quarterback coming in, Chad Voytik. He's the ideal quarterback for Graham's offense, but again, we're talking about a true freshman. Sunseri is definitely the guy this year and could be again next season.
Me: Have you ever seen anything like the rash of injuries that has befallen the panthers this season?
CH: Off the top of my head, I'm not sure. There have been seasons when there have been this many injuries, but I'm hard pressed to remember one when so many key players went down for so many weeks. The team lost Graham, arguably their best overall player, for the season. They've also lost their top two offensive linemen. Chris Jacobson, is gone for the whole season and Lucas Nix, who will be playing on Sundays next year, has been out for several weeks. Then there were the recent season-ending losses to the No. 3 receiver Cam Saddler and backup offensive lineman Matt Rotheram. It's been that type of year and it's nearly impossible to give Todd Graham any sort of grade for how things end up this season.
CH: I really was hoping you wouldn't ask that question. I don't want to sound like a homer and I've picked against Pitt a few times this season, including in games against Iowa, Notre Dame, and I think South Florida. But I really think Pitt will play well in this one. They've looked good in their two night games and I think it's a different sort of atmosphere playing at home in a night game. This team has kind of thrived on the fact that they've had their backs against the wall and while a loss wouldn't surprise me, I do think the team will come to play in this one. I also think the coaching staff figured some things out last week. Against what was a pretty good Connecticut defense that allowed only ten points to USF the week before, Pitt found a way to put up 35 points on the board without their best player. As good as Cincinnati's record appears, I also still think they're a bit of an unknown. At Cincinnati, I'd go with the Bearcats but in this one, I'll say Pitt pulls off the upset 27-24. Feel free to mock this pick accordingly.
Thanks again to Anson for taking the time to knock out these answers. Check out Cardiac Hill for me returning the favor.