September 11, 2010

Pitt gets what it needs: A win

Pitt didn't need a blowout victory on Saturday against New Hampshire, and the Panthers didn't need a dominant performance. All Pitt needed was a win to even its record after losing the season-opener at Utah nine days ago, and that's exactly what the Panthers got when they topped the Wildcats 38-16 at Heinz Field.

That's not to say that Pitt (1-1) didn't exert at least a little dominance over Saturday's FCS opponent. In fact, the Panthers asserted themselves throughout the game with six sacks, eight tackles for loss, six offensive plays of at least 20 yards, and 12 plays that gained at least 10 yards.

"We have a lot of upside and a lot of work to do," head coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game. "It's exciting to be the coach of this team."

Pitt's statistical superlatives were all over the box score. Junior receiver Jonathan Baldwin caught six passes for 100 yards and one touchdown, recording his ninth career 100-yard game and moving into ninth place on Pitt's all-time receiving list.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri completed 24-of-34 for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. And sophomore running back Ray Graham came off the bench to rush for 116 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.

But the real dominance was on defense. After allowing more than 400 yards to Utah last Thursday, Pitt held New Hampshire in check, keeping the Wildcats below 300 on the day.

"We always had it; we just started off a little slow last week," senior defensive end Jabaal Sheard said after the game. "They took us out of our game."

Sheard and the defensive line were certainly in the game on Saturday, as all six of Pitt's sacks came from the front four, including a career-high three sacks from redshirt junior Chas Alexcih.

"That's what we want to do: we want to direct the tempo of the game," Sheard said. "Like Coach always says, the coaches dictate the game."

Not all of Pitt's attack was necessarily dominant. The Panthers' offensive line struggled in the first half and went into halftime with 36 yards rushing on 17 attempts and two sacks allowed. The line also suffered from the loss of redshirt junior left guard Chris Jacobson (ankle) who did not return to the field after halftime.

In fact, Graham's performance offset a second-straight pedestrian effort from Dion Lewis, who followed his 25-carry/75-yard showing at Utah with a 10-carry/27-yard stat line against New Hampshire.

"They've all seen what Dion did last year, so it's no secret that they're going to stack the box up and we're going to have to come out and open up the pass a little bit," redshirt senior left tackle Jason Pinkston said.

"We struggled running the ball in the first half, but we changed it up in the second half," Wannstedt said. "I thought our coaches did a nice job with their adjustments. We started running some draw plays instead of the power runs, and we opened things up."

Pitt also mixed a handful of screen passes into the gameplan, and the adjustment was successful. Sunseri connected with Lewis for 21 yards to open the third quarter, and later in the quarter Sunseri and Baldwin hooked up for 18 yards on a screen to convert second-and-9.

"What we want to do is, we want to get the ball into our guys' hands that can make plays," Sunseri said. "They were stopping the run and we wanted to get the ball into Dion's hands in any way possible, so we were flanking him out and trying to get him in space where he could make plays. Screens were one of the ways that we thought we could get him the ball."

Pitt opened the game in style, intercepting New Hampshire quarterback R.J. Toman on the first play from scrimmage. But the Panthers produced just one yard on the ensuing drive and settled for a field goal. After a UNH punt, though, Pitt found the end zone with an 11-play, 54-yard drive carried by a 13-yard screen pass to Cameron Saddler and finished on a two-yard run by Lewis.

The Panthers hit for a pair of one-play drives in the second half; the first was a 56-yard scoring pass from Sunseri to Baldwin, and the second was a 64-yard run to the end zone by Graham. Graham added an eight-yard scoring run to cap an 80-yard drive late in the third quarter.

For New Hampshire, 12 of Toman's 15 completions went to tight end Chris Jeannot. As a team, the Wildcats rushed 35 times for 73 yards - just over two yards per carry - and no player gained more than 27 net yards rushing.


Notes: Dom DeCicco (hamstring), Greg Romeus (back), Andrew Taglianetti (groin), and Manny Williams (knee) did not play in the game…Romeus was not on the sidelines…announced attendance was 50,120…captains for the game were redshirt seniors Greg Cross, Alex Karabin, Nate Nix, and Tyler Tkach.






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