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April 16, 2011

Pitt's first-team offense looks good in spring game

Head coach Todd Graham told his team that in any weather - rain, sleet, snow, wind - it doesn't affect their offense.

It turned out to be true.

On a wet and soggy afternoon at Heinz Field, quarterback Tino Sunseri went 8-for-8 for 124 yards and two touchdowns on his first two drives as Blue dominated Gold, 48-13, in Graham's first Blue-Gold game in front of 1,507 fans Saturday.

"I always tell [my teammates] that I throw better in the rain," said Sunseri, who finished with 35-for-55 with 416 yards. "I feel like guys are able to come out of their breaks offensively it puts pressure on the defense.

He did, however, commit two turnovers. The first came when Marco Pecora undercut Hubie Graham's skinny post for an interception. The second came toward the game's finish when the ball slipped out of his hands while attempting a throw. Redshirt sophomore Emanuel Rackard returned it 10 yards for a touchdown.

Graham was happy with Sunseri's performance but feels that there's still a long way to go with this offense.

"There are two turnovers that are unacceptable. We can't have those," Graham said. "He threw for over 400 yards, but there's a whole bunch of missed yardage that you don't see in this offense.

His counterpart, Anthony Gonzalez struggled leading the Gold after winning the 2011 Ed Conway award winner for the spring's most improved offensive player. The redshirt freshman went 9-for-26 for 82 yards and two interceptions.

However, Gonzalez did show his mobility, scrambling out of the pocket on a number of plays, but without going live on the quarterback, it's tough to gauge his effectiveness.

"It's kind of hard," Gonzalez said. "You see openings and want to take it, but it's spring ball and they don't want to get anyone hurt.

The Panthers started quickly as Buddy Jackson ran straight through Pitt's kick coverage for an 87-yard touchdown on the game's opening kick.

After the Blue defense forced a three-and-out, Sunseri lead his offense down the field 65 yards on eight plays. He connected with receiver Devin Street on a hitch, and Street powered into the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown, putting Blue up 14-0. Sunseri was 6-for-6 for 69 yards on the first drive.

Gold responded with their best offense drive of the game. Gonzalez completed 3-for-4 passes 42 yards and added 15 yards on three carries. Freshman Randy Morris capped the drive with Gold's only offensive touchdown, a 4-yard scamper.

Sunseri responded on the next drive. On the third play of his next drive, he dropped back and avoided a heavy rush from sophomore T.J. Clemmings. He rolled right and found redshirt junior receiver Mike Shanahan, who weaved through the defense for a 50-yard score and a 21-7 lead.

"I think we got a little taste of what we can expect during the season, and I think it was good for us," said Shanahan, who finished with seven catches for 158 yards.

Each defense took over after that, forcing punts on eight of the next 11 drives. The two defenses would combine for eight sacks and four turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble).

"We came out a little slow, but we turned it around in the end," said Shane Gordon, who finished with three tackles and a sack. "We got a little bit of pressure on the quarterback and forced some turnovers."

Redshirt junior Kevin Harper was also solid on special teams. Despite the nasty conditions, Harper was able to put a couple kickoffs deep. He also converted both of his field goal attempts from 52 and 41 yards out.

As spring practice ends, Graham believes that the coaches and team has accomplished a lot this spring.

"We're all optimists, but I could not draw up a better spring because I believe these kids believe in what we're doing," Graham said. "We've started to build some trust, and that's the key."

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