South Florida Vs. Pitt: Panthers Crush Bulls, 44-17

No. 14/16-ranked South Florida comes to Heinz Field on Thursday.

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South Florida Vs. Pitt: Tino Sunseri Takes Step Forward

Thursday night, the unranked Pittsburgh Panthers walloped the No. 16-ranked South Florida Bulls, 44-17, and in so doing ended a two-game losing streak and pulled their record over .500, so there are plenty of positives to take away from the game. And apart from running back Ray Graham, who rushed for 226 yards and two scores, perhaps no player shone quite as brightly as much-maligned quarterback Tino Sunseri, writes Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic. Prior to the victory against South Florida, Kovacevic says, Sunseri "was the weak link, the soft-armed, slow-footed quarterback who was killing the Panthers."

But Sunseri showed plenty of progress in helping the Panthers topple the Bulls. The junior threw for 216 yards and a touchdown, did not throw an interception, and tallied 35 rushing yards for another touchdown. "I thought he took charge of our team tonight," Panthers coach Todd Graham told the media. Further, Sunseri's numbers don't adequately convey how well he played. Cardiac Hill, SB Nation's Panthers blog, explains:

[T]he team dropped several passes - most notably, Mike Shanahan who somehow flubbed a sure touchdown pass that hit him in the numbers (and then, by the way, dropped another pass that should have given Pitt a first down). He did it all without making many mistakes and was a big reason Pitt won.

Better still, Sunseri's performance comes less than a week after his coach criticized him following a loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, which included a promise that backup quarterback Trey Anderson would get to play one series against South Florida. Sunseri responded by completing his first seven passes, later scoring the Panthers' first points with a 13-yard touchdown run.

If Sunseri can maintain this level of play - which is to say if he can continue to play competent-if-not-spectacular football - Pittsburgh becomes a much more credible threat in the Big East.

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South Florida Vs. Pitt: Panthers Win Big In First Conference Game Of Season

After holding a narrow 20-17 halftime, Pitt blew the game open in the fourth quarter and found a way to hold on for a 44-17 win. The Panthers scored three consecutive touchdowns and never looked back.

Ray Graham delivered an eye-opening performance, rushing for 226 yards. He also caught four passes out of the backfield and tallied 42 total yards through the air. Graham started off strong, leading the FBS in rushing, but dropped off a bit in the losses at Iowa and against Notre Dame. But after this effort, expect to hear his name mentioned more on a national level – especially because the game was on a Thursday night and all eyes were on Pitt.

The much maligned Tino Sunseri had a strong night. He finished completing 22 of 33 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown. Sunseri didn’t throw for a ton of yards, but he didn’t make any major mistakes. He also suffered several drops and played probably his best game all season. There have been plenty of calls for Tino to lose his starting spot to Trey Anderson after every game this season, but that shouldn’t be the case after tonight’s contest.

For South Florida, it was more of the same. They came in with a lot of hype with a 4-0 record, but now will have lots of work to do in the Big East. B.J. Daniels didn’t have a horrible night, but he was clearly frustrated by the Pitt defense, which came from all angles, sacking the quarterback on a number of occasions. Pitt’s defense completely shut down USF in the second half, pitching a shutout.

With the short week this week, Pitt now gets some extra time to rest up before making a road trip to Rutgers next weekend. For more post-game analysis, head over to SB Nation Pitt blog Cardiac Hill.

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Pitt Vs. South Florida: Panthers Narrowly Lead At Halftime

Pitt holds a narrow 20-17 halftime lead over South Florida in their first Big East game of the season. So far, despite some mistakes, the Panthers have outplayed the Bulls for the most part.

USF turned a turnover on Pitt’s opening drive into an early 7-0 lead on a B.J. Daniels touchdown run. Freshman Darius Patton fumbled the ball on a trick play and the Bulls scored with little trouble. Pittsburgh settled down after that, though, with touchdown runs by Tino Sunseri and Ray Graham and two field goals by Kevin Harper, who after starting slow this season, has converted on his past six attempts.

Sunseri is having his best game of the season. He’s a modest 14-23 for only 118 yards, but has suffered several drops, including a sure long touchdown pass inexplicably dropped by a wide open Mike Shanahan. Shanahan then followed that up by another key drop and Pitt was forced to settle for a field goal.

Running back Ray Graham has been the star of the game thus far. He’s got the touchdown and already over 100 yards and has added three receptions for nearly 30 more yards.

South Florida will get the ball to start the second half.

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USF Vs. Pitt: Lucas Nix Down With Injury

Things are not looking good for Pitt in the first quarter. Pitt turned the ball over on their first possession as Darius Patton fumbled on a trick play and immediately allowed South Florida to march the length of the field and score on a B.J. Daniels touchdown run to give the Bulls a 7-0 lead.

But the bigger issue may be on the offensive line for Pitt.

The Panthers have lost Lucas Nix for the time being to a potential knee sprain as reported by ESPN sideline reporter Jenn Brown. Nix was being looked at by trainers and had to be taken to the locker room.

Pitt can ill afford another serious injury to the offensive line. Already playing without Chris Jacobson, losing Nix, their best remaining lineman would be a blow. Backup Ryan Schlieper has taken his place.

Other than the fumble, Pitt’s offense is playing well, moving the ball in good chunks on each of their first two drives.

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South Florida Vs. Pitt: Panthers Express Optimism Despite Losses

The Pittsburgh Panthers can right the ship after two heat breaking losses by knocking off No. 16-ranked South Florida.

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South Florida Vs. Pitt: Tino Sunseri Still The Panthers' Quarterback

The Pitt Panthers will stick with Tino Sunseri at quarterback on Thursday against South Florida, despite some lackluster performances so far. Here’s Pitt head coach Todd Graham:

[Trey Anderson] will play but our starting quarterback is Tino. We have to get some things corrected but he has the most experience. We have to put the person out there who gives us the best opportunity to win and that is Tino.

In Pitt’s first four games, Sunseri has 823 yards passing for 6.53 yards per attempt, to go along with four touchdowns and four interceptions. That’s not so hot, particularly given that two of those games were against Buffalo and Maine.

Anderson has only played a little, going 5-for-9 with 33 yards. He’s a freshman and isn’t nearly as familiar with Pitt’s system as Sunseri is. Graham is probably right to stick with Sunseri a while longer. The Panthers have a tough game coming up this week, and Sunseri isn’t so bad that it would be wise to turn the game into a giant quarterback experiment.

For more on Pitt, check out Cardiac Hill.

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