Pitt leads list of struggling offenses

Before the season began, one of the big storylines surrounding the Big East was whether the league would feature more offense.

Some even debated whether West Virginia or Pitt would score more points with spread-system coaches Dana Holgorsen and Todd Graham entering the league.

That debate seems laughable today.

Holgorsen and his offense have performed as expected, racking up points and yards at a school-record clip. Graham and his Pitt offense? Not so much.

The problems that have plagued the Panthers have come from nearly every position. The offensive line has given up 34 sacks this year and has had to deal with injuries to its two best players.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri has failed to properly execute the system in nearly every game, and has been benched at various points during games. The receivers have been inconsistent. You will not find one Pitt wide receiver among the league leaders in receptions or receiving yards per game.

Ray Graham is about the only player who has done anything right for the Panthers on offense.

The low point came this past weekend in a 26-14 loss to Utah, in which Pitt failed to score an offensive touchdown, had 50 yards passing and just 120 yards of total offense. Graham, who came in preaching high-octane offense, has never had his team struggle this badly in two other stints as a head coach at Rice and Tulsa.

In his five seasons combined at those two schools, the Utah game was the first time he has ever had a team fail to hit 100 yards passing. It was the first time his team failed to score a touchdown on offense, and the total offense mark was the worst in his career as a head coach.

Never have his offenses been this bad: Pitt ranks No. 96 in passing offense, No. 90 in total offense and No. 80 in scoring offense.

At both previous stops, Graham was blessed with solid quarterbacks who quickly grasped his system. He admits getting his system implemented has been harder than anticipated.

He has tried to transform a pro-style player into a hurry-up spread quarterback, and that has not worked. Sunseri has thrown five touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He is one of 10 quarterbacks in the top 100 in pass efficiency rankings to have more interceptions than touchdowns. Sunseri ranks No. 85.

"The bottom line is we’ve not performed where we need to at that position," Graham said. "Tino far and away has the biggest grasp of what we’re doing offensively from his experience in the spring and the fall. We’ve got to get it out of him."

Pitt is not the only offense that has struggled in the Big East this season. That was abundantly clear after Saturday, in which three teams failed to score an offensive touchdown. UConn has not scored an offensive touchdown in two straight games. Louisville has one offensive touchdown in its past two games, and it came with 42 seconds left in a loss to North Carolina.

Scoring is up in the league, thanks in large part to West Virginia and Cincinnati, but offenses as a whole in this league are a tad worse this year compared to last year. Last season, four teams ranked No. 90 or worse in total offense. This year, five teams fall into that category.

West Virginia and its 503 yards a game stand above everyone else. No question the Mountaineers have gotten headlines for their offense. But for the most part, you can say that defenses are doing much better this season.

Two Big East teams rank in the top 30 in the nation in total offense. Five rank in the top 30 in total defense, and all but one team (Syracuse) ranks in the top half of the nation in that category.

Will these trends continue? The bulk of conference play remains before we find out.