Oct. 1, 2012
Pitt (2-2, 0-1 Big East) vs. Syracuse (1-3, 0-0 Big East)
Oct. 5, 2012 • 7 p.m., ET • ESPN
Carrier Dome (49,262/FieldTurf) • Syracuse, N.Y.
Pitt Game Notes Link: Syracuse Game
• Pitt seeks its third consecutive victory when it travels to face longtime rival Syracuse in the Carrier Dome before a national ESPN television audience. Following an 0-2 start, the Panthers have rebounded to defeat nationally ranked Virginia Tech (35-17) and Gardner-Webb (55-10) to get back to the .500 mark.
• Pitt is coming off two of its most impressive offensive performances in recent memory. The Panthers produced a combined 1,163 yards in total offense against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, an average of 581.5 yards per game.
• Quarterback Tino Sunseri has been a major catalyst during Pitt’s offensive surge. The senior has completed 71% of his passes for 627 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception the past two contests. He is the Big East’s most efficient passer (15th nationally) with an impressive 166.80 rating on the year.
• Lost in the offensive upsurge has been an ever-improving Pitt defense. The Panthers have given up just one offensive touchdown and two field goals in their two victories. After failing to force a turnover in its first two games, Pitt has forced a combined seven in its two wins.
• Pitt is riding a seven-game winning streak against Syracuse. The Panthers’ last defeat in the series occurred in 2004, when they were outlasted, 38-31, in a two-overtime affair in the Dome. Pitt won last year’s meeting, 33-20, at Heinz Field.
• Pitt and Syracuse have met every year since 1955 and the annual rivalry will continue when both schools join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013. While they will be playing in separate divisions, the Panthers (Coastal) and Orange (Atlantic) will still meet every year as annual primary crossover opponents.
Pitt-Syracuse Series Notes
Pitt and Syracuse have met every year since 1955…Pitt holds a 34-30-3 advantage in the all-time series, which began in 1916...the annual series will continue when both schools join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013...although the Panthers (Coastal) and Orange (Atlantic) will be in separate ACC divisions, they will face each other as annual primary crossover opponents...the Panthers have won seven consecutive games against the Orange, and nine of the past 10...the teams have met 19 times as Big East football conference members since the league began round-robin play in 1993 and Syracuse holds a 10-9 advantage in those contests...since 1972 (40 seasons), 16 games have been decided by single digits (excluding a 20-20 tie in 1990)...the teams have played two double-overtime games and Syracuse won both (24-17 in 2000 and 38-31 in 2004)...both overtime contests were played in the Carrier Dome...Pitt is 20-11 against Syracuse in Pittsburgh...that record includes a 5-1 mark at Heinz Field...the Orange’s only victory at Heinz came in the stadium’s inaugural season, a 42-10 decision in 2001...the Orange hold a 17-14-3 advantage in games played in Syracuse...the Orange are also 2-0 against Pitt in neutral site games (the last coming at Shea Stadium in 1965)...Pitt is 6-9-1 all-time in the Carrier Dome, which opened in 1980...however, the Panthers have won four times in their last five visits to the Dome.
Pitt-Syracuse Series in Brief
Series Began: 1916
Series Overall: Pitt leads 34-30-3
Big East Series: SU leads 10-9
At Pittsburgh: Pitt leads 20-11
At Syracuse: SU leads 17-14-3
At Neutral Sites: SU leads 2-0
Last Meeting: Dec. 3, 2011 (Pitt 33, Syracuse 20)
Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: 11 games (1973-83)
Longest SU Series Win Streak: 11 games (1991-2001)
Largest Pitt Margin of Victory: 38 points (38-0, 1975)
Largest SU Margin of Victory: 48 points (55-7, 1996)
Pitt-Syracuse Broadcast Information
Television • ESPN
Dave LaMont, play-by-play
Kelly Stouffer, analyst
Paul Carcaterra, reporter
Pitt Radio • Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan & the
Pitt IMG Sports Network
Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play
Pat Bostick, analyst
Gregg Giannotti, reporter
National Radio • Compass Media Networks
Drew Bontadelli, play-by-play
Tony Hill, analyst
SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Pitt Team Notes
Previewing ACC Play for Pitt & Syracuse
Pitt and Syracuse will continue to meet on an annual basis when both schools enter the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013.
The current composition of the Atlantic and Coastal divisions will remain the same next season with the exception of Syracuse joining the Atlantic and Pitt joining the Coastal. The current primary crossover partners will remain consistent with Syracuse and Pitt becoming primary crossover partners with each other.
Beginning in 2013, the ACC will play a nine-game conference schedule. The format will consist of each team playing all six in its division each year, plus its primary crossover partner each year and two rotating opponents from the opposite division. This six-year cycle allows each team to play each divisional opponent and its primary crossover partner six times (three home and three away), while also playing each rotating crossover opponent two times (one home and one away).
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE FOOTBALL IN 2013
North Carolina State
* first-year members in 2013 and annual primary crossover opponents
Seeking Three in a Row
Following an 0-2 start, Pitt has won back-to-back games to even its season record at 2-2. The Panthers are seeking their first three-game winning streak since the 2010 season when they defeated Syracuse (45-14) on the road followed by home victories against Rutgers (41-21) and Louisville (20-3). In 2011, after winning its opening two games, Pitt did not put together consecutive victories for the balance of the year.
Two Big W’s
During its current two-game winning streak, the victory that captured the country’s attention was a 35-17 rout of No. 13 Virginia Tech at Heinz Field on Sept. 15. Pitt’s resounding win over the Hokies snapped the nation’s longest road winning streak. Virginia Tech had won an ACC-record 13 consecutive road contests (not counting bowls) prior to visiting Heinz Field.
Pitt’s most recent win, a 55-10 decision over Gardner-Webb on Sept. 22, saw the Panthers post their highest point total since 1999 when they defeated Temple, 55-24, in Pitt Stadium.
Holtz has played in all four games, starting the past two in place of ailing senior tight end Hubie Graham (shoulder).
Render, who has played in four contests, made his first career start in the Gardner-Webb victory, replacing injured junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald (knee).
Pardner had been playing a significant role as a nickel back and reserve cornerback through the first three games but suffered a left ACL injury against Virginia Tech and will be out for the season. However, the Rochester native is expected to receive a medical redshirt.
Shell is Pitt’s second-leading rusher with 229 yards and a TD on 44 carries (5.2 avg.) in three games played.
Pitt rolled up 626 yards in total offense (397 passing, 229 rushing) against Gardner-Webb, the Panthers’ highest single-game production since 1997 when they had 645 yards (470 passing, 175 rushing) in a double-overtime victory at Rutgers (55-48). The Gardner-Webb contest marked Pitt’s highest total offense in a regulation game since 1995 when it compiled a school-record 648 yards (333 passing, 315 rushing) in a 66-30 win over Eastern Michigan.
In its past two games, Pitt has produced a combined 1,163 yards in total offense (626 vs. Gardner-Webb and 537 vs. Virginia Tech). This two-game total set a school record for offensive output in back-to-back games.
The prior mark was 1,154 set in 1992. That season, Pitt had 558 yards vs. Rutgers followed by a 596-yard game vs. Minnesota.
The Pitt record for three-game offensive production was also set in 1992. The Panthers compiled 1,706 yards in games against Rutgers (558), Minnesota (596) and Maryland (552) during the ‘92 campaign.
Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri is coming off two of the finest performances of his career. In engineering victories over Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, Sunseri was a combined 37-of-52 passing (71%) for 627 yards with six touchdowns and just a single interception.
Sunseri was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week for his role in the Panthers’ 35-17 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. He completed 68% of his passes (19 of 28) against the Hokies for 283 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
In the Gardner-Webb win on Sept. 22, Sunseri threw for 344 yards on 18-of-24 passing (75%) with three touchdowns and no INTs. It was the second-highest passing yardage of his career, trailing only his 419-yard performance against Connecticut in 2011.
Tino Sunseri leads the Big East and ranks 15th nationally in pass efficiency with a 166.80 rating. On the year he has completed 80-of-119 passes (67%) for 1,144 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions.
Improved TD-to-INT Ratio
As a junior, Tino Sunseri threw 11 interceptions compared to 10 touchdowns. Through four games this year he already has eight TDs and only two INTs.
Seasoned Signal Caller
Tino Sunseri has started 30 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener at Utah. Sunseri’s starting streak is the longest by a Pitt quarterback since Tyler Palko made 35 consecutive starts from 2004-06. Palko started every single game for the Panthers during those three seasons.
Alex Van Pelt holds the school record for consecutive games started as well as total starting assignments by a Pitt quarterback. Van Pelt started every game during his four-year career (46 starts from 1989-92). He also is the school’s career leader in passing yards (11,267) and total offense (11,148). Sunseri ranks fifth at Pitt in career total offense (6,616) and sixth in career passing yards (6,446).
Senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan is Pitt’s leading receiver with 21 catches for 368 yards (17.5 avg.) and three touchdowns. He ranks second in the Big East with an average of 92.0 receiving yards per game, trailing only Syracuse’s Marcus Sales (95.5 avg.).
Mike Shanahan enters the Syracuse game with back-to-back 100-yard receiving efforts. In Pitt’s last contest against Gardner-Webb, Shanahan had a career-high 144 receiving yards on five catches (28.8 avg.) and added two TDs (four and 77 yards).
In the Virginia Tech win, he had five catches for 111 yards (22.2 avg.), the first 100-yard receiving game of his career. His six-yard TD catch with 5:33 left in the game completed the scoring and iced Pitt’s 35-17 upset of the Hokies.
Movin’ on Up
Mike Shanahan recently became the 17th player in school history to reach 100 catches for his career.
Shanahan currently ranks 12th all-time at Pitt with 118 career receptions. His five catches against Gardner-Webb moved him past Steve Moyer, who had 117 catches from 1969-71.
Junior wideout Devin Street is also closing in on the 100-catch milestone with 96 career receptions.
Ray Returning to Form
Senior tailback Ray Graham is returning to healthy form after spending the offseason rehabilitating from right knee (ACL) surgery. Graham has been Pitt’s starting tailback in all four games this year and has 362 rushing yards on 65 carries (5.6 avg.) with four total TDs. Against Cincinnati (Sept. 6), he rushed for 103 yards on 19 attempts, his first 100-yard game since getting injured. Graham nearly reached 100 yards in Pitt’s victory over Virginia Tech (Sept. 15), netting 94 yards on 24 carries. He also scored three touchdowns against the Hokies (two rushing and one receiving). In the Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb win, Graham made the most of his eight carries, averaging 11.8 per rush en route to 94 net yards. One of his carries was a 78-yard TD to open the scoring.
Graham’s Century Rushing Games
Ray Graham’s 103-yard rushing effort against Cincinnati Sept. 6 marked the eighth 100-yard game of his career. It was also his first century rushing game since Oct. 8, 2011, when he had 159 at Rutgers.
In 2011, Ray Graham was on a dazzling rushing pace comparable only to Tony Dorsett in Pitt annals before an injury ended his season in late October. Through his first seven games, Graham was second nationally and first in the Big East in rushing yards per game (134.14 avg.). He was hurt early in the eighth game against Connecticut and finished the ‘11 campaign with 958 yards and nine TDs on 164 carries (5.8 avg.).
Graham had 939 rushing yards through the first seven games of 2011. His total trailed only Dorsett, who had 1,072 yards through the first seven games of his 1976 Heisman Trophy season. The other best seven-game starts in Pitt history include (in descending order) Dorsett as a freshman in 1973 (928 yards), Craig “Ironhead” Heyward during his Heisman finalist season in 1987 (920), Dion Lewis in 2009 (918), Dorsett as a junior in 1975 (851) and LeSean McCoy in 2008 (835).
A Winning Shell Game
Freshman tailback Rushel Shell was a key offensive catalyst in Pitt’s 35-17 win over Virginia Tech by rushing for 157 yards on 23 attempts, an impressive 6.8-yard average. Shell became the first Pitt freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game since Dion Lewis had 159 against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26, 2009. (Pitt defeated the Tar Heels, 19-17.)
Lewis had 10 100-yard games as a true freshman in 2009 en route to 1,799 yards, the second-highest single-season rushing total in school history. Lewis’ total trails only Tony Dorsett, who had 2,150 rushing yards during his 1976 Heisman Trophy season.
By comparison, Dorsett also had 10 100-yard games as a freshman in 1973 (finishing with 1,686 yards in 12 games), while LeSean McCoy had seven 100-yard games as a frosh in 2007 (totaling 1,328).
Pitt’s offensive line play has elevated considerably since the 2011 season. One factor in that improvement is consistency of personnel up front. The Panthers have fielded the same starting five for each game this season: junior Cory King at left tackle, senior Chris Jacobson at left guard, senior Ryan Turnley at center, junior Ryan Schlieper at right guard and sophomore Matt Rotheram at right tackle.
Last year, due to a myriad of injuries, Pitt was forced to shuffle eight different starting offensive line combinations in 13 games.
To Serve and Protect
The Pitt passing game has thrived the past two games and improved protection up front has played a vital role. After surrendering six sacks in a Sept. 6 road loss at Cincinnati, the Panthers gave up only a pair of sacks in their subsequent two games. Especially impressive was Pitt’s pass protection against Virginia Tech’s highly regarded defensive front. The Hokies managed only one sack in the game as Pitt rolled to 537 yards in offense (283 through the air) and won, 35-17.
Stingy Scoring “D”
The Panthers have given up just one offensive touchdown and two field goals in their last two games, both resounding victories.
In its 35-17 win over Virginia Tech, the Hokies managed only one offensive TD, an 85-yard catch-and-run that was aided by a missed tackle. Virginia Tech’s other scores came off a 94-yard punt return and a 32-yard field goal.
In the Panthers’ 55-10 win over Gardner-Webb, Pitt yielded only a 41-yard field goal on defense. GWU’s other score came off a 65-yard fumble return.
After failing to gain a turnover in the season’s opening two games, the Pitt defense has forced a combined seven (four INTs and three fumble recoveries) during the Panthers’ two-game winning streak.
In its 35-17 win over No. 13 Virginia Tech, Pitt forced four turnovers, including three interceptions of highly regarded Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas. Junior free safety Jason Hendricks had two picks while senior strong safety Jarred Holley had the other.
Additionally, sophomore linebacker Eric Williams had Pitt’s first fumble recovery of the season. Williams recovered a fumble (forced by redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Cook) at the Virginia Tech 10 in the second quarter. Ray Graham rushed for a five-yard TD two plays later to give Pitt a 21-0 lead.
The Panthers forced three more turnovers in their 55-10 win over Gardner-Webb. Hendricks had his third interception of the year, while senior defensive end Shayne Hale and senior linebacker Joe Trebitz both had fumble recoveries.
A Rush to Improve
Pitt’s rushing defense has improved significantly during its two-game win streak. The Panthers yielded an average of 231.5 rush yards in their losses to Youngstown State (204) and Cincinnati (259). That average dropped to 45.5 yards in Pitt’s victories over Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb.
Pitt limited the Hokies’ traditionally strong rushing attack to only 59 yards on 26 carries, an average of 2.3 yards per attempt. The Hokies only had two runs over nine yards for the game. Quarterback Logan Thomas had Virginia Tech’s longest rush, an 11-yard carry in the second quarter. Gardner-Webb mustered only 32 rushing yards on 29 carries (1.1 avg.).
It’s Not Easy Being Green
Some of Pitt’s early season defensive struggles could be traced to inexperience. Through the opening four games, a total of 13 players have made their first career start for the Pitt defense.
In the opener against Youngstown State, eight players made their first start on the defensive side of the ball for the Panthers: sophomore defensive end Bryan Murphy, junior defensive end Jack Lippert, sophomore defensive tackle Eric Williams, redshirt freshman linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts, sophomore cornerback Cullen Christian and sophomore safety Ray Vinopal.
In the Gardner-Webb victory, freshman defensive tackle Darryl Render made his first career start.
Gordon Growing Up
In his first season as a full-time starter, junior middle linebacker Shane Gordon continues to elevate his performance from a leadership and production standpoint.
Gordon leads Pitt in tackles (28), TFLs (tied, 4.0), sacks (1.5) and pass breakups (five). He made critical back-to-back plays in the Virginia Tech victory when in the third quarter he helped stuff the Hokies for no gain on 3rd-and-1 and then again on 4th-and-1 from the Pitt 35. The Panthers, leading 21-10 at the time, took over on downs and drove 65 yards for a touchdown to go up 28-10.
Hendricks Leads Air Defense
Coming off an abbreviated 2011 campaign due to a shoulder injury, junior safety Jason Hendricks has bounced back in top form this season. Hendricks leads Pitt with three interceptions. His 0.75 INTs per game rank first in the Big East and sixth (tied) nationally.
Donald Draws Attention
Junior Aaron Donald was on nearly everyone’s preseason All-America checklist following a standout 2011 season. Rotating across the defensive front, Donald compiled 47 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 11 hurries and a forced fumble last year. Donald became only the fifth Pitt player since 1991 to compile 10 or more sacks in a season. He ranked seventh nationally in that category with an average of 0.85 per game.
As the leader of Pitt’s inexperienced front seven, Donald has been the target of double teams throughout the opening month of the season. Although he missed the Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb contest due to a knee injury, he has eight tackles, five quarterback hurries and two TFLs in three games.
In the Virginia Tech victory, Donald made a key play following an interception that gave the Hokies possession at the Pitt 36 early in the fourth period and the Panthers protecting a 28-17 lead. On first down, Donald burst through the line and tackled J.C. Coleman for a six-yard loss. Virginia Tech then threw two incompletions and had to punt away, ending the threat.
The Pitt defense has recorded at least one quarterback sack in 28 of the past 29 games.
The Panthers had a streak of 25 consecutive games with a sack snapped against Youngstown State on Sept. 1. The YSU contest marked the first time Pitt had been held without a sack since Sept. 2, 2010, when they lost in overtime at Utah (27-24).
Entering the Oct. 5 Syracuse game, Pitt has six sacks on the season, led by junior linebacker Shane Gordon’s 1.5.
Strong Start for Yoklic
Junior punter Matt Yoklic is averaging 44.19 yards on 16 punts this year to rank second in the Big East and 23rd nationally. Yoklic has placed six punts inside the 20-yard line through four games. At Cincinnati, he averaged a season-best 45.3 yards on seven punts and had two downed at the Bearcats’ one-yard line.
Kevin Getting His Kicks
Senior placekicker Kevin Harper is looking to build upon a 2011 season that saw him lead Pitt in scoring (95 points) and rank 11th nationally in field goals made per game (1.62 avg.). Through four games he again paces Pitt in scoring with 27 points (4-of-7 field goals and 15-of-15 PATs). Harper had a season-high 13 points in the 55-10 win over Gardner-Webb, converting each of his seven PATs and 2-of-3 field goals.
Nearly Perfect on PATs
Since the opening of the 2006 season, Pitt has been virtually flawless on its extra-point kicks. The Panthers have missed only three PAT kicks over this current stretch (246 of 249, .988).
During his two seasons as Pitt’s starting placekicker, Kevin Harper has gone 47-for-48 in PAT kicks (.979). Harper is 15-for-15 this year.
Productive Rookie Returner
Redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts is not only a starter on defense but also an impact kickoff return man. Pitts is averaging a Big East-best 33.50 yards on six kick returns this year. That average ranks seventh nationally. He has a long return of 64 yards (against Gardner-Webb).
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