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September 30, 2011

Pitt's offense gets a little closer

Pitt didn't play a complete game of offense at Heinz Field on Thursday night.

After all, the Panthers did punt twice; other than that, Pitt was virtually perfect in taking down No. 16 South Florida 44-17.

Consider the numbers:

523 yards of total offense, 32 first downs, and 44 points; all were season highs.

"It felt great," junior running back Ray Graham said after the game. "We got out there and we executed. We finally felt like the Pitt offense, the high-octane offense."

Graham was the standout in Pitt's win, rushing 26 times for 226 yards and two touchdowns and catching four passes for 42 yards; that's more than half of the team's total offense. But he wasn't the only producer on Thursday night. His backfield mate, Zach Brown, rushed 16 times for 55 yards and a touchdown; quarterback Tino Sunseri gained 55 yards and a touchdown on the ground; and eight total players caught passes in the win.

"We came out and I think it was the first time we actually executed the offense the way it's supposed to be, and it showed," Brown said. "Tonight it clicked."

The South Florida game came as a welcome change of pace for Pitt. After muddling through four games with performances that fluttered between flashes of brilliance frustrating inconsistency, the Panthers were effective from the start on Thursday.

"I've said all along that we've got a good football team, and we made great strides tonight because we finally played a complete game," head coach Todd Graham said.

After losing the game-opening possession due to a fumble, Pitt scored two touchdowns and two field goals on its next four first-half drives to take a 20-17 lead into halftime. The Panthers added three more touchdowns and a field goal around back-to-back three-and-outs in the second half.

But those three-and-outs were Pitt's only three-and-outs before the game was well out of reach. Throughout the game, the Panthers drove the ball with Graham's rushing and efficient passing from Sunseri, who completed 22-of-33 for 216 yards and a score. The result was a 60% (9-of-15) conversion rate on third down, well above the team's season average of 37.5%.

"It's very pleasing to see it done, because a lot of people have been talking about how it's been coming and we've been getting closer and closer; we finally did it, and we know what it feels like," Sunseri said.

"We just have to pay more attention to the details," Brown said. "We were getting the bigger part of the offense; it was just the small things we were messing up on. I think we did the small things right tonight.

"Now we see what can happen by paying attention to those small details."





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