Sunseri knows he has to get better

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
10:30
AM ET
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri knows he has to get better. Nobody needs to tell him that, because he realizes it for himself.

He has watched extra film and worked extra in practice at correcting his mistakes. There have been overthrows in the first two games. There have been rhythm and timing issues. At times, he has held on to the ball too long.

But he remains confident he is the right man to lead this offense as the Panthers prepare for a critical three-game stretch, starting Saturday at Iowa.

“I feel like we’re moving the right direction,” Sunseri said in a phone interview. “I feel like everybody knows what’s right and wrong. We’re all learning from our mistakes and understanding what we’re doing right. If you’ve won two games, you’ve been doing some things right. I’ve missed some throws, but digested some of the things we’ve done and gone onto practice field to correct the mistakes.”

It has been stated many times that Sunseri is running a vastly different offense than the one he led last year. The hurry-up spread under coach Todd Graham requires a great deal of timing to make things go smoothly. If Sunseri holds onto the ball a second too long, things go wrong.

“A lot of the passing game is timing and rhythm, making sure you’re getting the ball out in time, receivers working to get off jams and making sure they get to the proper spots, make sure I’m hitting them in stride and making sure I’m putting it in there to where they can catch it and be able to break a tackle,” Sunseri said. “We’ve come a long way. We’ve gotten better. Last week, our timing was a lot better than the week before, so we are improving.”

Still, there are some Pitt fans who are getting restless. Graham promised a high-octane offense but so far the only player delivering is running back Ray Graham, who leads the nation in rushing. He has benefited with the change in offensive scheme. Defenses have played two high safeties to defend against the pass rather than loading up the box.

That has been an adjustment for Sunseri, who is 37-of-63 for 403 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in two games. His completion percentage is 59 percent, simply not good enough for the offense to be consistent.

When Graham pulled him in favor of true freshman Trey Anderson in the fourth quarter against Maine last week, some wondered whether that was an indictment of the way Sunseri had played. But Graham insisted it was planned all along to get Anderson playing time, and he has full confidence in Sunseri as his starter.

“Tino’s done some great things at times and we have great potential and I have great belief in Tino and what we’re doing,” Graham said. “But there’s a lot of pressure on that position. We’ve got to be more disciplined, and work hard to get better.”

So how close is the offense?

“Inches,” Sunseri said.

How about his confidence?

“All-time high,” he said. “I feel confident in the plays, confident in the coaches calling plays, confident in every area of our offensive game plan. I feel we’re close. We’re really close. Cut out the mistakes and it’s a whole different story.”

Despite the inconsistency, Pitt is averaging nearly 10 points more per game this season than last. Perhaps the promises of a high-scoring machine have put expectations unreasonably high on an offense that is still getting used to the scheme and tempo. But Sunseri said he would not have it any other way.

“I love that Coach Graham put the expectations so high,” Sunseri said. “We have an experienced team, a talented team. And why not set that bar? We’re going to try to meet those standards as close as we can.”

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