Area 4-1-Zoo: Pitt's Catalyst, Tino Sunseri
Pitt’s 31-3 loss at home against Miami on Sept 23 was a low for the offense.
In fact, the Panthers hadn’t been held to that low of a point total since a 3-0 loss in the 2008 Sun Bowl to Oregon State. But since then Pitt has gone on a tear, averaging almost 37 points a game while winning three of four. Much of that production is a credit to Tino Sunseri.
In the last four games Sunseri has thrown for over 1,000 yards and completed almost 71 percent of his passes. Nine of those completions have been for touchdowns compared to just 2 interceptions.
“The thing that Tino’s doing right now is he’s managing the game, he’s taking what the defense gives (him),” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said Monday. “When we have opportunities to take shots he’s making good choices. For a young quarterback you couldn’t ask any more.
“I think everybody just evaluates the quarterback position by how many passes you complete. There’s so much to it. He’s gettin’ the call, managing the huddle, getting us in and out of plays … all those little things that go unnoticed he has truly improved week after week.”
Through the first three games Sunseri averaged just 173 yards passing a game and had 3 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. If you were to remove his 275-yard, 2-touchdown performance against FCS opponent New Hampshire, his production would look far worse.
But Sunseri’s work in practice and the coaching staff’s confidence in him as the starter have allowed him to evolve in to one of the nation’s most efficient passers. He now is No. 24 in the nation with a quarterback rating of 152.48.
“The way that we talk in our quarterback room is that we just wanna play the position,” Sunseri said. “That’s how I feel we’ve been playing the last couple of weeks. We’ve been taking what the defense has been giving us, (we’re) making checks in the running game to keep us out of a bad play.”
The result has been better overall play from the entire offense.
Sunseri’s ability to go through his reads in the passing game and find available receivers has opened everything up. Now weapons at wide receiver like Jon Baldwin, Mike Shanahan and Devin Street are being utilized.
In turn, they stretch the defense away from the line of scrimmage. No longer does the offensive line see eight and nine men in the box, eliminating clogged up running lanes.
“That’s been the pattern the last couple weeks that we’ve seen from defenses – just being a little more honest,” Wannstedt said. “We said from week one, until we start hitting some of those passes and they know that we’re not afraid to drop back and throw the football and do it effectively … it’s just lip service.
“I think now people know that if they wanna play certain coverages that we’re gonna throw the ball.”
Baldwin pulled in four balls for 139 yards and a touchdown, Henry Hynoski had 7 catches for 51 yards and running back Dion Lewis found enough space to rush for 130 yards on the ground and a touchdown against Rutgers.
“Our pass game and our run game are just complementing each other very well right now,” Hynoski said. “I think that’s a big difference.”
All Sunseri could say after Saturday’s win was that the rest of the offense better be on their toes. The ball could come anyone’s way on any given play.
“We always say that we want to be a complete offense from anybody that steps on to the field,” Sunseri said. “(Saturday) was J.B. and Dion’s day. They both had big games. Next week it could be Devin Street, Mike Shanahan, it could be Ray Graham.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog