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Nov. 19, 2012

Pitt (4-6, 1-4 Big East) vs. #21/19 Rutgers (9-1, 5-0 Big East)

Nov. 24, 2012 • Noon, ET • ESPN2

Heinz Field (65,050/Natural Grass) • Pittsburgh, Pa.

Pitt Game Notes Link: Rutgers Game

Pitt-Rutgers Storylines

• Pitt will host the last undefeated team in Big East play when Rutgers visits Heinz Field on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights are 5-0 in the conference (9-1 overall). The Panthers are looking to bolster their own postseason hopes by handing Rutgers its first league loss.

• With a 4-6 record, the Panthers will be playing for bowl eligibility in their final two regular-season games. Pitt will need six victories to be eligible for an invitation to one of the Big East’s six bowls. The Panthers have been to four consecutive postseason dates since 2008.

• Pitt tailback Ray Graham will square off against one of the Big East’s best defenders — who also happens to be his brother — in Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. Graham is Pitt’s leading rusher with 835 yards, while Greene is the Big East’s leading tackler, averaging 10.7 stops per contest.

Ray Graham is just 165 yards away from the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career. Last year, Graham was the nation’s second-leading rusher through seven games (134.14 avg.) before a right knee injury against Connecticut ended his year. He finished 2011 with 958 yards.

• Quarterback Tino Sunseri has thrown 206 consecutive passes without an interception, the second longest active streak in the country. Sunseri will be facing a Rutgers defense that leads the Big East with 15 interceptions this year.

• The Pitt offense has the fewest turnovers of any team in the Big East (seven) while the Rutgers defense has forced the most (27) of any team in the conference.

• The Rutgers game marks the final home contest of 2012 for Pitt. The Panthers will honor their 18 departing seniors in a pregame ceremony at Heinz Field.

Pitt-Rutgers Series Notes

This marks the 30th meeting between Pitt and Rutgers in a series that dates back to 1981...the teams have met every year since 1985…the Panthers hold a 21-8 lead in the all-time series...Pitt holds a 12-7 advantage in Big East games beginning in 1993 when the league began round-robin play...since 2005, however, the Scarlet Knights are 5-2 against Pitt, including a 34-10 victory at Rutgers’ High Point Solutions  Stadium in 2011...prior to last year’s encounter, the Panthers had won back-to-back games in the series (41-21 in 2010 at Heinz Field and 24-17 in 2009 at Rutgers)...from 2005-08, Rutgers won four consecutive games against Pitt, the Scarlet Knights’ longest winning streak in the history of the series...Pitt’s longest winning streak in the series is nine games (1981-91)...the Panthers are 11-3 at home against Rutgers and 9-5 on the road...the lone neutral site game was played in 1989 in Dublin, Ireland, and won by Pitt, 46-29.

Pitt-Rutgers Series in Brief

Series Began: 1981

Series Overall: Pitt leads 21-8

Big East Series: Pitt leads 12-7

At Pittsburgh: Pitt leads 11-3

At Rutgers: Pitt leads 9-5

At Neutral Sites: Pitt leads 1-0

Last Meeting: Oct. 8, 2011 (Rutgers 34, Pitt 10)

Last Meeting at Pitt: Oct. 23, 2010 (Pitt 41, Rutgers 21)

Current Streak: RU has won 1

Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: 9 games (1981-82; 1985-91)

Longest RU Series Win Streak: 4 games (2005-08)

Largest Pitt Margin of Victory: 46 points (52-6, 1982)

Largest RU Margin of Victory: 24 points (34-10, 2011)

Pitt-Rutgers Broadcast Information

Television • ESPN2

Beth Mowins, play-by-play

Joey Galloway, analyst

Pitt Radio • Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan & the Pitt IMG Sports Network

Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play

Pat Bostick, analyst

Gregg Giannotti, reporter

Internet Audio • Panthers All-Access

SiriusXM Satellite Radio

Sirius Channel 106, XM Channel 196

Pitt Team Notes

Pitt Senior Salute

Eighteen Pitt seniors will make their final appearance at Heinz Field when the Panthers host Rutgers on Nov. 24. 

WR Joshua Brinson (Homestead, FL/South Dade/El Camino C.C.)

OL Zenel Demhasaj (Brooklyn, NY/New Utrecht/Nassau C.C.)

TE Hubie Graham (Scranton, PA/West Scranton)

RB Ray Graham (Elizabeth, NJ/Elizabeth)

DL Shayne Hale (Monroeville, PA/Gateway)

PK Kevin Harper (Mentor, OH/Mentor)

DB Jarred Holley (Easton, PA/Easton Area)

OL Chris Jacobson (Pittsburgh, PA/Keystone Oaks)

DB Marco Pecora (Johnstown, PA/Richland)

WR Cameron Saddler (Monroeville, PA/Gateway)

WR Mike Shanahan (North Huntingdon, PA/Norwin)

QB Tino Sunseri (Pittsburgh, PA/Central Catholic)

DB Andrew Taglianetti (Bridgeville, PA/Central Catholic)

LB Joe Trebitz (Boca Raton, FL/West Boca Raton)

OL Ryan Turnley (Hopewell, PA/Hopewell)

OL Justin Virbitsky (Jermyn, PA/Lakeland)

DL Kris Wildman (Champion, OH/Champion)

LB Manny Williams (Clairton, PA/Clairton)

Working on Bowl Eligibility

With two contests remaining in the regular season, Pitt is working on becoming bowl eligible. The Panthers own a 4-6 overall record and need two more wins to be eligible for one of the Big East Conference’s six postseason slots. Since 2000, the Panthers have advanced to nine bowl games. Pitt went to five consecutive bowls from 2000-04. After failing to qualify for three consecutive years (2005-07), the Panthers have been to a bowl each of the past four seasons. 

Close Shaves

Three of Pitt’s six defeats this year have been by single-digit margins. Each of those close shaves have been on the road — Oct. 5 at Syracuse (14-13), Nov. 3 at Notre Dame (29-26 in three overtimes) and Nov. 9 at Connecticut (24-17).

Turnover Margin

Pitt ranks 19th nationally (tied) and second in the Big East in turnover margin. The Panthers are plus-8 in the turnover department (0.80 margin per game), forcing 15 and only losing seven. Rutgers leads the Big East and ranks 12th nationally in turnover margin (1.10 avg.). The Scarlet Knights are plus-11 on the year (27:16).

Fresh Faces

Through 10 games, Pitt has had four true freshmen see action: tight end J.P. Holtz, defensive lineman Darryl Render, tailback Rushel Shell and cornerback Jahmahl Pardner. Holtz has played in all 10 games, starting seven. He has six receptions for 107 yards (17.8 avg.) and two touchdowns on the year. Shell is Pitt’s second-leading rusher with 466 yards and four TDs on 94 carries (5.0 avg.) in nine games played. Render has played in eight contests with one start, and has five tackles, 1.5 TFLs and one PBU on the season. 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. He is expected to receive a medical redshirt.

2012 Team Captains Selected

Pitt has selected its team captains for the 2012 season. They are senior center Ryan Turnley, senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan, senior wide receiver Cameron Saddler, senior safety Jarred Holley and junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Ray on the Career Lists

Senior Ray Graham will finish his career as one of the most productive running backs in school history. Graham is prominent on Pitt’s career statistical lists for all-purpose yards, rushing and scoring. He currently ranks second in all-purpose yards (4,686), fourth in rushing (3,064) and 10th in scoring (198 points).

Golden Graham

Ray Graham had one of the finest performances of his career when Pitt faced the heralded Notre Dame defense on Nov. 3. Graham rushed for a season-high 172 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (7.2 avg.). Notre Dame entered the game ranked ninth nationally in rushing defense, yielding just 95.25 yards on the ground. Graham’s first carry of the game was a 55-yard burst into the heart of the Notre Dame defense. It was the longest offensive play given up by the Irish this season. Later in the second quarter, he scooted around the right end for a 16-yard touchdown run — the first rushing TD by an opposing running back against the Irish this year.

Efficiency Excellence

Tino Sunseri ranks 12th nationally and second in the Big East in pass efficiency with an impressive 159.14 rating. On the year he has completed 200-of-297 passes (67%) for 2,665 yards and 16 touchdowns with just two interceptions. As a junior, Sunseri ranked 82nd nationally in pass efficiency (124.09), completing 64% of his passes (247 of 385) for 2,616 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Tino on a Roll

Tino Sunseri has been highly productive over the past eight games. During that stretch Sunseri has completed 68% of his passes for 2,148 yards (268.5 yards per game) and 14 touchdowns with only one interception. 

206 Passes and Counting

Tino Sunseri has a current streak of 206 pass attempts without an interception, the second longest active streak in the country. University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) junior Eric Soza has the longest streak at 234. Sunseri’s last interception came at the 14:13 mark of the fourth quarter in Pitt’s 35-17 victory over Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. That INT came at the Pitt 36 with the Panthers holding a 28-17 lead. Pitt’s defense rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out. On their next possession, the Panthers drove 88 yards for the game-clinching touchdown, a six-yard Sunseri pass to Mike Shanahan. Sunseri’s only other interception this season came in the second game of the year at Cincinnati (Sept. 6).

Terrific on Turnovers

Pitt is tied for first nationally with only two interceptions thrown on the year. The Panthers are tied with Alabama, Army and Louisiana Tech in that category.Pitt is tied for 13th nationally (tied for second in the Big East) in fewest fumbles lost (five). In terms of total turnovers, the Panthers are second nationally and first in the Big East with only seven on the year. (Ohio leads the nation with only six turnovers.) Pitt has gone five consecutive games without a turnover. The Panthers’ last turnover occurred in the Oct. 5 Syracuse game (lost fumble in the first quarter).

Seasoned Signal Caller

Tino Sunseri has started 36 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener at Utah. Sunseri’s starting streak is the longest by a Pitt quarterback since Alex Van Pelt made a school-record 46 consecutive starts from 1989-92. Van Pelt is Pitt’s career leader in passing yards (11,267) and total offense (11,148). Sunseri ranks fourth in both career passing yards (7,967) and career total offense (8,043).

Devin Dazzles

Junior wide receiver Devin Street ranks second in the Big East in both receptions per game (5.90 avg.) and receiving yards per game (80.60 avg.). On the year, Street has totaled 59 catches for 806 yards (13.7 avg.) and four touchdowns.  

A Pitt player has led the Big East in receptions four times in the history of the conference. Larry Fitzgerald was the last to accomplish the feat during his 2003 All-America season when he averaged 7.1 catches per game. A Pitt player has led the Big East in receiving yards nine times, the most recent coming in 2005 when two-time all-conference receiver Greg Lee averaged 87.5 yards per contest.

Fitzgerald was the last Pitt player to lead the Big East in both categories in the same season (2003).

Going over 100

Devin Street had a career-high 140 receiving yards on six catches in Pitt’s 47-17 victory over Temple on Oct. 27. It was Street’s third 100-yard receiving performance of the year. He previously had 111 yards on a career-high 11 catches vs. Louisville, and 130 yards on 10 receptions at Syracuse. The last Pitt player to record more than three 100-yard receiving games in a season was Jon Baldwin, who had seven 100-yard games in 2009. Baldwin totaled 1,111 yards that year on 57 catches. He went on to be a 2011 first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sticky Fingers

Mike Shanahan and Devin Street rank among the most prolific pass catchers in Pitt history as evidenced by the school’s career lists for receptions and receiving yards. Shanahan is fifth all-time in receptions (141) and ninth in receiving yards (2,041). Street has 137 catches to rank sixth and is 10th in career receiving yards with 1,878.

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. It is the highest single-game rushing total by a Big East freshman this season and the fifth best rushing performance by a Big East player regardless of class. Shell is 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.)

O-Line Stability

Pitt has enjoyed much more stability on its offensive front this season compared to last year. In 2011, due to a myriad of injuries, Pitt was forced to shuffle eight different starting offensive line combinations in 13 games.

In 2012, Pitt fielded the same starting five on its offensive front for the first eight games of the year. With junior guard Ryan Schlieper’s season-ending right foot injury against Temple Oct. 27, sophomore Arthur Doakes has taken over the starting role for the subsequent two games.

The season-long fixtures on the offensive line have been junior Cory King at left tackle, senior Chris Jacobson at left guard, senior Ryan Turnley at center and sophomore Matt Rotheram at right tackle.

Surpassing 600

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.

Historic Two-Game Production

In its back-to-back September victories, Pitt 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 consecutive 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.

500-Yard Games

Pitt has reached 500 yards in total offense three times this year. The Panthers last achieved that feat back in 1992 when the Pitt offense, led by all-time leading passer Alex Van Pelt, had four 500-yard games.

Defensive Improvement

Pitt’s defense has improved significantly since the opening two games of the season when the Panthers started 0-2 and gave up an average of 422.5 yards. Over its subsequent eight games, Pitt sliced that average by nearly 80 yards, giving up only 342.6 yards per contest. (Of note: Pitt’s averages include a triple-overtime game at Notre Dame Nov. 3.)

Point Prevention

Perhaps Pitt’s most impressive improvement has been in scoring defense. In its opening two losses, Pitt gave up an average of 32.5 points. Over the past eight games, that average has been reduced to 20.3 (During this current eight-game stretch, Pitt surrendered four touchdowns on returns — two on fumbles and two on punts. Taking out those 28 points, the 20.3 scoring average drops to 16.8.) In 10 total games this year, Pitt is yielding 22.7 points to rank 31st nationally and fourth in the Big East.

Turnovers are Key

Pitt is 3-1 this season when forcing multiple turnovers in a game. In contrast, the Panthers are 1-5 when failing to generate more than one turnover.

In its 35-17 win over No. 13 Virginia Tech, Pitt forced a season-high four turnovers, including three interceptions of 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 the following week. Hendricks had his third interception of the year, while senior defensive end Shayne Hale and senior linebacker Joe Trebitz both had fumble recoveries.

In a 47-17 rout of Temple, the Panthers gained two turnovers — fumble recoveries by Eric Williams and redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts.

Despite forcing three turnovers at Notre Dame (two interceptions and a fumble recovery), the Panthers fell to the No. 4 Irish, 29-26, in triple overtime — the only time this season when Pitt has lost while forcing multiple turnovers.

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 four interceptions. His average of 0.40 INTs per game ranks first in the Big East (tied) and 14th nationally.

Sack Attack

The Pitt defense has recorded at least one quarterback sack in 34 of the past 35 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 Nov. 24 Rutgers game, Pitt has 19 sacks on the season. Junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald and junior nose tackle Tyrone Ezell each have a team-high 3.5 sacks.

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 (263 of 266, .989). During his two seasons as Pitt’s starting placekicker, senior Kevin Harper has gone 64-of-65 in PAT kicks (.985). Harper is 32-of-32 this year. Harper is also one of only three kickers in the Big East to make all of their extra-point kicks this season (minimum 20 attempts). Syracuse’s Ross Krautman (34 of 34) and Connecticut’s Chad Christen (20 of 20) are the others.

Kevin Gets His Kicks

Kevin Harper ranks second in the Big East and 23rd nationally (tied) with an average of 1.50 field goals per game. Harper has made 15-of-22 field goals this year (.682) with a season-long of 45 (made at Buffalo). He has made nine of his past 11 attempts and 11 of his past 14.

Harper Among All-Time Leaders

Kevin Harper ranks among the top kick scorers of all-time at Pitt. Harper is currently seventh in kick scoring with 172 career points and could reach the top 5 before his senior season is complete.


Football hosts Rutgers in 2012 Heinz Field finale

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