Pitt hopes to keep up winning momentum

September, 18, 2012
9/18/12
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To follow up its huge victory over Virginia Tech, Pitt gets to play an FCS team this weekend.

You know what that means.

Queue jokes about losing to Youngstown State.

[+] EnlargeTino Sunseri
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMITino Sunseri has surprised critics with his strong start to the season.
The Panthers have already been a part of this horror film, and do not intend on starring in another one against Gardner-Webb on Saturday. Pitt looked nothing like the team started 0-2 when it smacked No. 13 Virginia Tech this past Saturday, displaying domination on both sides of the line, an unstoppable rushing attack and a quarterback making all the right decisions.

Tell me the last time you could say that about Pitt.

"We knew coming into the season that it was going to be difficult," center Ryan Turnley said in a phone interview. "You’re not going to transition as perfectly as you want to, but we knew if we stuck together and kept working, we could do good things as a team and we can get this program going back to where we want it to be. We knew there was going to be some adversity at the beginning, some rough patches but at the same time, we came out on Saturday and played together, hung together through whatever happened."

It is hard to put a finger on what was more surprising: the way the much-maligned Tino Sunseri played, or the way Pitt was able to handle what was supposed to be an outstanding Virginia Tech defensive front. The Panthers gave up six sacks the week before against Cincinnati and displayed some of the same old problems up front that plagued this team a season a season ago.

But as coach Paul Chryst so often says, everything must work in concert with one another on offense. He is never quick to point the finger at his line, or his quarterback or running backs. It may seem like a cliche, but he repeats it often: it takes a total team effort. On Saturday, all the pieces fit together.

First in line for praise should be Sunseri, who threw three touchdown passes and an interception. When Virginia Tech closed to 28-17 near the end of the third quarter, Sunseri led his team on a game-sealing touchdown drive -- on a bad ankle no less.

"I thought when he was good on Saturday, he was playing within himself, taking what was there for him and guys made some plays," Chryst said. "Early in the game, he gave Devin (Street) a chance to make a play on a streak route and Devin finished it. I thought he did the same with Mike (Shanahan) in the first half. Tino’s got enough ability if we’re on the same page and just execute, if everyone does their job, you have a greater chance to have success. I thought Tino did some really good things, showed some toughness."

He was able to finish the game despite the bum ankle and will be available Saturday. "After the game, he was moving around down to the student section, so he ought to be ready for the next game."

Next in line should be the offensive line, which has taken nearly as many lumps as Sunseri has in the last year. But so far this season, Pitt has had two games with no sacks allowed (Youngstown State) and one sack allowed (Virginia Tech), and the running game exploded for more than 200 yards on the ground against the Hokies.

There were some untimely penalties against the Hokies that Chryst pointed to. But overall, Pitt did just about everything right for the first time all season.

Now the Panthers have to carry that momentum into Saturday and the rest of the year.

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