Pittsburgh running back Zach Brown
Oct. 26, 2011
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Tino Sunseri threw for a career-high 419 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score as Pittsburgh rolled past Connecticut 35-20 on Wednesday night.
The Panthers (4-4, 2-1 Big East) snapped a two-game skid despite losing star running back Ray Graham to a right knee injury in the first quarter.
For one night, at least, Pitt didn't need the Big East's leading rusher.
The Panthers had little trouble moving the ball against the Huskies (3-5, 1-2) behind Sunseri, who made coach Todd Graham's vote of confidence pay off with the best game of his career.
Lyle McCombs ran for 124 yards but UConn could get little going in the passing game when it mattered. Johnny McEntee completed 17 of 33 passes for 193 yards and two scores, but the Big East's worst offense again struggled to move the ball for long stretches.
The Panthers had no such issues even after losing their biggest weapon 4 minutes into the game.
Graham crumpled to the ground at midfield after having his right leg pinned awkwardly underneath him while getting tackled by UConn's Jory Johnson following a 1-yard gain. Graham clutched the back of his leg before being helped off the field.
The nation's second-leading rusher returned to the field in street clothes and is expected to have an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of the injury.
The Panthers looked dramatically different without their star running back, but the embattled Sunseri appeared capable of keeping the offense afloat. He completed 29 of 42 passes and his 419 yards were the most by a Pitt quarterback since Rod Rutherford threw for 419 against West Virginia in 2003.
Not bad for a player whose grasp on the starting job has seemed tenuous at times.
Sunseri has been the starter all season but freshman Trey Anderson cut into his playing time in recent weeks, a notion Todd Graham abandoned after both players struggled in a woeful 26-14 loss to Utah on Oct. 15.
Graham pledged to stay with Sunseri because "he gives us the best chance to win."
The junior played that way for most of the night against the Huskies, proving effective with both his arm and legs. Sunseri ran for a team-high 40 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown four plays after Graham went down that gave Pitt a quick 7-0 lead.
Sunseri was just getting started. He hit Mike Shanahan for a 17-yard score to put the Panthers up 14-0 and led a 68-yard drive late in the first half that ended with a 3-yard dive by Zach Brown to put the Panthers up 21-3.
Sunseri's only mistake came with Pitt going for more in the final seconds of the half. With the Panthers out of timeouts and the ball at the UConn 22 he rolled right and failed to get rid of the ball before getting sacked by Trevardo Williams.
The clock ran out as Sunseri limped toward the sideline in front of a livid Todd Graham. Yet Sunseri appeared fine when the team returned to the field following halftime and after a brief let-up in the third quarter the Panthers responded with the kind of close-out performance Coach Graham said his team needed to stay relevant in the Big East race.
UConn made a game of it briefly after McEntee hit Kashif Moore for a 62-yard touchdown pass - the Huskies' first offensive score in nearly a month - and David Teggart drilled a 31-yard field goal to bring UConn within 21-13 midway through the third quarter.
The Panthers responded quickly, going 82 yards in just five plays with Shanahan doing most of the work on a 27-yard touchdown pass to put Pitt up 28-13.
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