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October 15, 2011

Pitt's offense takes another step back

Another game, another regression, and the Pitt offense has a lot of questions to answer in its upcoming off-week.

After stumbling through a trip to New Jersey last week in a 34-10 blowout defeat at Rutgers, the Panthers came back to Heinz Field and looked no better on offense in their 26-14 loss against Utah on Saturday.

Actually, the offense looked even worse. Bad enough that head coach Todd Graham repeatedly used words like "disappointing," "embarrassing," "unacceptable," and "terrible" in his post-game press conference.

"They whipped us up front, dominated us up front, dominated the line of scrimmage, took Ray [Graham] away, and we absolutely just (had) a dismal performance and embarrassing the way we performed offensively," Todd Graham said after the game.

The question of Ray Graham's contributions to Saturday's game will be debated, since the junior tailback, who entered the game as the leading rusher in the nation and Pitt's leading receiver, totaled just 15 touches (12 carries and three receptions).

But Pitt's woes on Saturday and in the Rutgers game were bigger than Graham's lack of touches. After seemingly turning a corner in the 44-17 win over South Florida a little more than two weeks ago, the Panthers' offense has regressed, scoring just one touchdown (Pitt's scoring on Saturday came on special teams) and punting 18 times in eight quarters of football.

Pitt gained 523 yards of total offense and average nearly six yards per play in the win over South Florida; against Utah, the Panthers netted a total of 120 yards of offense and averaged less than two yards per play.

"We do have potential and we showed what potential we have," Todd Graham said. "We have to come out every week and do that. But to go from one end of the spectrum, with 500 yards of offense, to 120 yards of offense, I didn't know that was possible."

Not surprisingly, the key element in the offensive regression has been at quarterback. In the last two games, redshirt junior Tino Sunseri and freshman Trey Anderson have combeind to complete 25-of-63 passes (39.7%) for 181 yards, no touchdowns, and six interceptions (three each).

Pitt's quarterbacks have been so bad in the last two games that they have each thrown an interception that was returned for a touchdown; in other words, Pitt's quarterbacks have thrown more touchdowns in the last two games for their opponents (two) than their own team (zero).

Anderson replaced Sunseri to start the second half at Rutgers and played two series before throwing a pick-six and heading back to the bench. Against Utah on Saturday, Anderson entered the game for the final drive of the first half and played on all three drives in the third quarter. Then Sunseri returned for three drives but Anderson took over for the final three drives of the game.

"Neither quarterback played very good at all," Todd Graham said. "It was a very, very bad offensive performance, and there's not anything you can say about that.

"As I've said all year long, the one that gives us the best chance to win is Tino. We've just got to get some things corrected and get him executing. We've gone from our best performance against South Florida to two weeks of the complete other end of the spectrum. And the ownership for that goes to our coaches."

Pitt (3-4 overall, 0-1 in the Big East) is off until next Wednesday, when the Panthers will host Connecticut at Heinz Field.

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