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November 10, 2012

Sluggish start dooms Pitt

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Pitt's loss to Connecticut at Rentschler Field Friday night truly was a tale of two halves.

The Huskies owned the first half and the Panthers ran the second. Unfortunately for Pitt, the home team had the better half, and the difference between the two gave Connecticut a 24-17 win.

The difference between the two halves was remarkable. In the first half, Connecticut outgained Pitt 249-121, held the ball for nine more minutes, and gained 13 first downs to Pitt's six. In the second half, the stats were flipped. Pitt held advantages in total yardage (229-96), passing yardage (141-83), and first downs (12-7).

Each team even held the other scoreless in its "strong" half. The problem for Pitt was that Connecticut's half featured a 24-point scoring output; the Panthers' second-half scoring advantage was only 17 points, and that was the difference in the game.

"We just came out playing flat," senior running back Ray Graham said after the game. "I have no answer for that. I really don't. I don't know what was the reason behind that. We just needed to get some fire up under ourselves and come out like in the second half.

"We went in there and we spoke and we came out rallied up, but it's a sixty-minute game. You can't do that. You can't play one half good and expect to win the game."

Quarterback Tino Sunseri had a pretty marked change in his stat line. Sunseri completed 8-of-18 for 107 yards in the first half; in the second half he was 11-of-16 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Sunseri said things changed on the sidelines and on the field after halftime.

"I think it was better execution and adjustments, and I think it was players making plays," Sunseri said. "Obviously coaches can only go so far with game-planning; players have to be able to go out and execute. We weren't executing in the first half."

Still, it wasn't just a matter of changing the game plan. While Pitt struggled on both sides of the ball in the first half - the offense couldn't move the chains and the defense couldn't stop Connecticut tight end Ryan Griffin - there was more at play than just the scheme.

"We just didn't come out with the energy," redshirt sophomore Todd Thomas said. "After the Notre Dame game (last Saturday when Pitt lost a triple-overtime game to the Fighting Irish, who were ranked No. 3 at the time) , everybody was like, 'We gave it all; we gave it our heart.' But we have to move on from that. We came out in the first half lackadaisical and didn't play to our potential.:

Thomas said that head coach Paul Chryst helped build some fire in the locker room at halftime Friday night.

"We came out and we just wanted it. We came out with our heads up and ready to play. We didn't come out lackadaisical; we just came out and played.

"Coach fired us up a little bit. He tested our manhood. And we came out and played; we just didn't get the job done."

And that's the ultimate result of Pitt's uneven play at Connecticut. The Panthers (4-6, 1-4) need two more wins to achieve bowl eligibility and they have two games left on the schedule: a home game against Rutgers on Nov. 24 and the season finale at South Florida on Dec. 1. Connecticut was supposed to be one of the teams Pitt could count on for a victory in the march to a bowl, but the Huskies had other plans Friday night.

"I just think that we came out sluggish in the first half," Graham said. "We came out too sluggish and we were just too flat. Definitely give credit to them, but I think that we stopped ourselves.

"If you take a team lightly, you'll be in for a rude awakening.






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