Not everything has gone badly for Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri this season.
Sure, it may feel that way after back-to-back subpar performances. But he did have a nice game against USF. He did some good things against Buffalo, Maine and Iowa.
So quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge spent the bye week showing Sunseri bits and pieces of game tape that prove he is perfectly capable of running this offense.
“Instead of telling a player, ‘Don't do this, don't do that,’ I am a big believer in painting a picture for him,” Dodge said in a phone interview. “I want to show Tino what he looks like when he’s doing it our way. He knows what to do, it's just a matter of being consistent.
“We’re throwing all our faith into him. Tino is the guy we have the most invested in, and I believe as his coach he can get it done for this football team.”
Whether he can or not will go a long way toward determining how the Panthers (3-4, 1-1) finish up this season. They begin their final five-game stretch tonight against UConn (3-4, 1-1), a team that has had similar struggles at quarterback and along the offensive line.
To be sure, not every problem on the offense falls on Sunseri. The offensive line has been banged up and is simply not performing up to standards. The receivers are not providing much help, either blocking or with their route running. About the only player who has shown up every down is Ray Graham, and even he was limited to 12 carries in a loss to Utah the last time the Panthers played.
But as the quarterback, the spotlight falls onto Sunseri. As the quarterback of a no-huddle, spread offense -- in which tempo and rhythm are an absolute must -- the pressure increases for Sunseri to get the job done right.
So far, he has failed to do that more often than not. There have been two main points Dodge has emphasized to Sunseri during the bye week:
Get rid of the ball faster. Whether that means throwing the ball out of bounds, to a hot read or buying time in the pocket, Sunseri cannot keep taking sacks. Pitt has given up 34 sacks already this season.
Focus on what you can control. Part of that means a slimming down of the playbook to fit what Sunseri can do, along with the strengths of the offense (ahem, more Ray Graham).
“I feel like offensively maybe we tried to do too much,” coach Todd Graham said. “I’ve always talked about going from A-Z. You don’t want to do that. We tried to go to A-M, but probably should have gone to A-G.”
Because Sunseri does not quite have a grasp of the system, his completion percentage and yards per attempt have gone down from last season. Sunseri is completing 62 percent of his passes, but averaging just 6.1 yards an attempt.
It should come as no surprise then that Sunseri has completed just two passes longer than 26 yards all season -- both came against Iowa in Week 3 -- both went for touchdowns (30 and 66 yards).
Dodge said Sunseri has practiced well, and has done nothing to hint at any potential trouble in games. He has not seen his quarterback waver in confidence, either, though Todd Graham hopes his decision to stick with Sunseri for good will help with consistency.
“There are two ways the quarterback can look at this kind of situation,” Dodge said. “You can feel sorry for yourself and tuck your tail between your legs and shy away. Or you can come back and compete. That's what Tino's going to do. That's what all of us are going to do. You find out the true makeup of a quarterback, the true makeup of a team when you’re under serious adversity.”