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April 14, 2012

Offense struggles to finish in Blue-Gold game

The Pittsburgh Pirates motto for this season is "finish." Maybe the Pitt offense should adapt the same slogan.

Despite moving the ball, the offense drove for three field goals in the first nine drives before finally putting the ball into the end zone during Pitt's Blue-Gold game at North Hills' Martorelli Stadium Saturday.

"They started out and had a couple drives, but they didn't finish them," head coach Paul Chryst said. "You've got a make a play, and then back that up with another play. It's not any different than it's always been, you get in the red zone, you have to finish."

In front of 4,607 fans on a rainy afternoon, the Pitt offense went to the ground early and often. Sophomore running back Isaac Bennett ripped off a number of nice runs early and give the Panthers their first big play of the scrimmage.

On the first play of the first team's second drive, Bennett took the handoff right, cut back and juked defensive end Bryan Murphy, then stiff armed Lloyd Carrington before taking off down the left sideline for a 51-yard run. Bennett had 87 yards on his first six carries and finished with 121 on 23 carries.

However, that was the highlight for the first-team offense early in the scrimmage as the unit only converted five first downs in the first five drives.

"They had a couple runs and stuff," said Shane Gordon, who started at middle linebacker and finished with three tackles, "but when it came down to the redzone stuff, I felt like we bowed up. Bend but don't break so that's how it went today."

Quarterback Tino Sunseri completed 13 of 27 passes for 147 yards but missed a number of throws that would have put points on the board. Twice on the first drive, Sunseri overthrew tight end Drew Carswell, once on a flag route then again on a fly where a blown coverage left him wide open. That trend continued as the afternoon wore on.

"I think that guys were running open," Sunseri said. "You just got to put the ball on people, understand certain route depths and just keep competing.

"The first couple drives, you go down and you kick field goals and don't score touchdowns. You're obviously disappointed you didn't score, but there's still positives to that. You're moving the football."

Still, the defense deserves credit stopping the offense. The front seven put consistent pressure on the quarterbacks, finishing with nine sacks and six hurries on 22 offensive drives. Even when the offense was able to move the ball, the defense was able to hold most drives to a field goal by Kevin Harper, who went 5 for 6 on the day.

"It's kind of typical of where we're at right now," Chryst said. "There's some good things, and certainly some moments you have to clean up and mistakes you've got to eliminate. I think it's pretty much what it's been like this spring, but we're working and there's areas we're getting better"

Pitt's first offensive touchdown came on the tenth drive of the game (fifth by the second team). On third-and-eight, quarterback Mark Myers, who split second-team reps with Trey Anderson, found receiver Brandon Ifill on a skinny post for a 58-yard touchdown. Myers finished 10 of 16 for 167 yards.

Sunseri followed up Myers' first touchdown drive with an 11-play, 70-yard drive of his own, connecting with receiver Ronald Jones on a 3-yard score in the back of the end zone.

Pitt, focusing on situational football all afternoon, completed four red-zone drives, starting at the opponents' 20. The Panthers converted on three of the four drives, including two touchdowns.

Both the first- and second-team offense also ran drive starting at its own 4-yard line, trying to go the length of the field. The second team, led by Myers, drove deep into opposing territory, resulting in a Harper 38-yard field goal, setup by a 45-yard over-the-shoulder throw to Ed Tinker.

The first-team's drive, however, ended in the only offensive turnover of the game. On second-and-eight from its own 6, Sunseri under threw Joshua Brinson on a post, and safety Andrew Taglianetti picked the pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.

Of the 22 offensive drives, half ended in scores (five touchdowns, six field goals) to signal the finish of Pitt spring practice and the first step toward the 2012 season.

"It's a good start, but it's just a start," Chryst said.

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