Pittsburgh’s Tino Sunseri had a career night in leading the Panthers (4-4, 2-1 Big East) to a 35-20 victory against defending Big East champion Connecticut (3-5, 1-2 Big East), but a leg injury to star running back Ray Graham took some of the thrill of victory out of the night for the home team.
Graham carried the football for an 18-yard gain on his first attempt of the night but his night would end on his second carry when his right leg appeared to give out on him as he planted his right foot on the turf at Heinz Field. He immediately reached for his leg as he went down on he field. He would be helped off the field without placing weight on his right leg and taken to the locker room for treatment. He later returned to the sideline, but out of his uniform and with crutches and the aide of a cart to bring him on and off the field.
“Obviously, with Ray [Graham] going down early in the game, it was a big blow for us,” said Pittsburgh head coach Todd Graham after the game. “I didn’t know anything other than he couldn’t come back the rest of the game.”
The extent of Graham’s injury is not yet known, but it does not appear he will be back any time soon for Pittsburgh. He is expected to have an MRI on Thursday. He could be the third player this week to be lost for the season this week. Defensive back Jason Hendricks was announced to be done for the season with a shoulder injury on Monday and redshirt freshman receiver Salath Williams needs shoulder surgery, which was announced on Tuesday.
With Graham taken out of the game early on the Pittsburgh offense looked to Sunseri to come up big, and he did so with a career night. Sunseri passed for a career high 419 yards and two touchdowns and he added another on the ground to help the Panthers snap a two-game losing streak.
“I was really pleased with Tino and how he managed the game,” Graham said. “It’s the second time this year that we reached our goal of 100 percent ball security. We took care of the ball and didn’t turn the ball over tonight. We went back to some things that really helped him. 419 yards passing, that’s a good night. I thought Tino was very solid tonight.”
Pittsburgh will need more performances like that from Sunseri moving forward with Graham out of the picture. Graham entered this weekend leading the Big East in rushing with 925 yards (944 yards after last night’s game) and was one of the lone highlights of Pittsburgh’s offense this season with nine touchdowns. With Graham out of the mix the running game will turn to Zach Brown, who entered Wednesday night with 122 yards and four touchdowns. Brown rushed for 30 yards and a touchdown in Graham’s absence. Sunseri led the Panthers running the football with 40 yards (including a loss of 33 yards on three UConn sacks).
“We are pretty elated with how our guys responded today,” Graham said. “I’m proud of how they went out today and played. We faced a lot of adversity tonight.”
Pittsburgh moves to 2-1 in Big East play, while Connecticut drops to 1-2. Pittsburgh takes on Cincinnati next week in a critical Big East game. The Bearcats enter this weekend 2-0 in conference play and alone in first place in the Big East. Cincinnati is off this week.
Connecticut hosts Syracuse next weekend. Syracuse plays at Louisville this weekend, with both schools 1-1 in the Big East.
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