1. Runs in the Family
It’ll be a strange day in the Sunseri household. Pitt SR QB Tino Sunseri, ranked No. 8 nationally in pass efficiency, will be slinging it against the Bulls this afternoon at UB Stadium. Meanwhile, tonight in Knoxville, Tino’s brother Vinnie, a safety at Alabama, goes up against their father, the defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Otherwise, there’s not much on the family calendar. This has been a transformational year for Tino under first-year Panthers head coach Paul Chryst. Last year he carried 154 times as the zone read factored in the offense. He’s down to 34 carries this year as the Panthers utilize more of a two-back approach. Sunseri wears his new role as a unburdened passer well. His completion percentage is a sizzling 70 percent. He’s already thrown for as many TDs as last year (10) with nine fewer INTs (two). His quick throws will be a challenge for a UB secondary that rarely plays press coverage.
2. Trench Warfare
UB’s offensive identity lies with the ground game but moving the ball has been more of a chore with primary RB Bo Oliver still on the mend. Yes, the Bulls had a 300-plus against Ohio with true freshman Devin Campbell going for 160. But they managed just 141 the game before that, at UConn, and a scant 74 in last week’s thrashing at Northern Illinois. The O-line had a tough week against the Huskies but there was more to it than that as NIU flooded the box to deprive the Bulls of their bread and butter. TE Jimmy Gordon is listed as the primary fullback this week, an indication UB is taking steps to address the sell-out defenses they’ll be seeing.
3. Yard for Yard
The statistics make one wonder how it is that UB stumbles into this game at 1-5. They’ve accumulated more first downs than their opponents. They have more rushing yards and nearly as many passing yards. So how is it that they’ve been outscored, 209-137? Turnovers tell the tale. UB’s forced a mere three and recovered a fumble for the first time this season in the waning minutes last week. They’ve thrown seven interceptions and produced just two. The offense has grown accustomed to making the long march out of necessity. Plus there are those two kickoffs opponents have returned for TDs.
4. Match Game
UB’s secondary knows what it’s like to face rangy wideouts. They see 6-4 Alex Neutz in practice everyday. Today they’ll get a double dose of height in 6-5 Sr. WR Mike Shanahan and 6-4 JR WR Devin Street. They combined for 68 catches and 6 TDs . . . Pitt SR RB Ray Graham gashed Bulls for 201 and three TDs last year but tore ACL last October and is just getting back to form. Power back Rushel Snell (327 yards) has eased his workload. . . Panthers use 4-3 as base defense but will throw in some three-man fronts. . . . Pitt well aware of UB LB Khalil Mack, who leads nation in tackles for losses and had two against Panthers last year.
5. Extra Points
Pitt hasn’t started 2-5 since 2001, when it won last six and beat N.C. State (Philip Rivers) in the Tangerine Bowl . . . Pitt secondary coach Matt House was an assistant to Turner Gill at UB in ’06 and ’07 . . . Panthers lead all-time series 3-0 after 35-16 win at Heinz Field in last year’s opener and are 28-3 all-time against MAC. . . . Go figure. Panthers have beaten Virginia Tech (then No. 13) and lost to FCS Youngstown State. . . . UB hasn’t gone this deep into schedule without a victory over FBS team since 2005.
Outlook: Panthers susceptible, but burden of proof’s on UB. Pitt, 23-13.