Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. is in charge of getting the offense, specifically the passing game, in order. Last Thursday night against Miami, Tino Sunseri threw for just 65 yards, and was sacked three times. Opposing defenses have been stacking the box against Pitt’s offense all season. With the exception of the second half of the New Hampshire game, and for a few plays in the fourth quarter at Utah, Pitt’s passing game has been a non-factor.
Pitt’s passing game struggles can be indirectly linked to the limited run production as well. Clearly, defenses have not been scared off by anything, as all three opponents have continued to stack the box. A good way to loosen that pressure up, is to get the passing game involved. As proven by the second half against New Hampshire, when Sunseri threw nine passes to start the second half, it opened up the running game as well. Ray Graham responded, finishing with over 100 yards in the second half, including a 56-yard touchdown. Obviously, Pitt possessing the ball wore down New Hampshire’s defense, but it was evident how much Pitt’s passing game is needed to set up the run.
When the passing game sputters--regardless of the team--the first question always gets pointed at the starting quarterback, and if it’s necessary to make a change. Cignetti said a change is not eminent for this upcoming game with Florida International. However, if some kind of progress is not made soon, there will be one.
“I wouldn’t say (Sunseri) is on a shorter leash, but every position, you’ve got to evaluate performance,” Cignetti said. “If the guy on the field isn’t giving us the best chance of winning the game, then changes might have to be made.”
If it’s not going to be this week, the staff is has to come up with a justified manner on when to make a change, and what factors will determine that. Obviously, if Sunseri comes out making better decisions with the ball against Florida International, and leads the unit on sustained drives, it’s not an issue. If the staff is going to make a change, it can’t be a knee-jerk reaction. Cignetti and Wannstedt will need some more circumstantial evidence, before pulling Sunseri in favor of another quarterback.
“Tino is our starting quarterback,” Cignetti said. “What you need to do, is get a feel for, ‘Okay, if something bad happens, why did it happen?’ I’m in the press box, (graduate assistant) Luke Getsy is my eyes and ears on the sideline, and he does a great job. The way it kind of works, is I’ll ask Luke, ‘Okay Luke, find out what did he see,’ before I talk to (Sunseri).
“What you try to evaluate, is when you see pass opportunities for completions being passed up, you try to find out, ’What’s the quarterback seeing?’ Is he not seeing it well? Is he not processing information well? Or, is he just being greedy?’ I think it’s more, ‘Lets get the eyes focused on the primary receiver. Lets get the eyes focused where they should be so we can complete the football.’ Frankly, to make those decisions, there’s intuition. There’s feel, and you don’t know until it happens.”
Wannstedt agreed that while Sunseri has struggled early on, he feels his sophomore quarterback has had a good week in practice, and will rebound.
“Do we have to make some plays in the passing game, sure,” Wannstedt said. “I’m confident that we’re going to come out here and make some plays, and we’re going to work through this. Am I surprised by the whole thing? Not really. A little bit disappointed, but I thought we’d be further ahead than where we’re at; run and pass. Tino’s had a good week. I’m confident he’s going to play good this week. I really believe that.”