Pitt’s football season had approached dismal after starting 3-4 including a loss against Utah 12 days ago where the offense never penetrated the Ute’s 35 yard line. However, the Panthers (4-4, 2-1 Big East) rebounded Wednesday night and saved their season, at least for now, by routing Big East foe Connecticut (3-5, 1-2 Big East) 35-20 at Heinz Field.
“We’re pretty elated with how our guys responded today,” Pitt head coach Todd Graham said. “I thought our guys executed well and I thought Tino [Sunseri] was very solid.”
One of the most-criticized Panthers this season had been starting quarterback Tino Sunseri. Except for Pitt’s win against South Florida on September 29, Sunseri has looked lost in the new spread offense he was thrust into when Graham arrived this season.
He responded against Connecticut by throwing for more yards than any other college player at Heinz Field. He finished the game with 29 completions for 419 yards and two touchdowns on 42 attempts. He also ran for 33 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
“I thought the offensive line picked up the blitzes, our wide receivers got open, and our running game performed well,” Sunseri said. “I just tried to get the ball down the field.”
Early in the first quarter, star running back Ray Graham suffered a game-ending injury to his right knee. Zach Brown stepped in and carried the load by rushing for 33 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries and leading all Pitt receivers with nine catches for 84 yards. Graham’s status was unknown following the game.
“We need Ray [Graham] back,” Brown said. “He was helping me on the sidelines all night, almost like he was another coach.”
Overall, the Panthers racked up 529 yards of offense while holding the Huskies to 316 yards. Defensive lineman Chaz Alecxih helped lead the charge. He had six tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Uconn running back Lyle McCombs led all rushers with 124 yards on 25 carries. Uconn receiver Kashif Moore led all receivers with six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
“We had a lot of games this season where we let a team come back,” Alexcih said. “We just put our foot down and said we weren’t going to let them do that.”
Pitt took a 21-3 lead at the half after Sunseri ran for an 8-yard touchdown, threw a 17-yard touchdown to Mike Shanahan, and Brown banged in for a 3-yard touchdown.
The Huskies closed the gap in the third quarter after Johnny McEntee hit Kashif Moore on a 62 yard touchdown and Dave Teggart booted a 31 yard field goal to pull Connecticut to 21-13 but the Huskies would not get any closer.
Pitt pulled away with two minutes in the third quarter after Sunseri tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Shanahan (his second touchdown of the game) and Ronald Jones threw a 14 yard touchdown pass to Devin Street with less than four minutes to go in the game while running the wildcat package. The Huskies added a touchdown with 43 seconds left when McEntee found Ryan Griffin in the endzone for a 14-yard score.
The Panthers next game is at home against Big East-leading Cincinnati on November 5. Pitt and Rutgers are only a half-game behind the first place Bearcats.
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