Pitt wasted little time demonstrating the explosiveness that Todd Graham wanted to bring here, as Buddy Jackson returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for the Blue team. The offense followed suit en route to a 48-13 win over the Gold.
“It was a beautiful day for football,” Graham said, making a poke at the constant downpour that hovered over Heinz Field “It was a great day for football. It doesn’t matter; rain, sleet or snow, it doesn’t affect how we’re going to operate.”
Tino Sunseri completed his first eight passes of the game, including a 14-yard touchdown pass on the Blue team’s first offense series. Ray Graham took the snaps with the first-team for the first two offense seires, then returned for two more series later in the season. Sunseri displayed the type of numbers that resembled Tulsa quarterback G.J Kinne in 2010, as he completed 35-of-55 passes for 416 yards, 2 touchdown passes and an interception. Mike Shanahan was his main go-to guy, catching seven of those passes for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Though it was a big game for Sunseri, Graham feels Sunseri has room for improvement in the summer. He talked about Sunseri, as a starting quarterback, needs to be a disciple of the offense in-tune with the head coach and the offensive coordinator, instead of just being a quarterback running an offense. In other words, he will be expected to act and think like a coach when he’s out there.
“I think it’s the little things,” Graham said. “There’s two turnovers that are unacceptable.”He’s got a lot to learn That’s the biggest thing we have to work with him. Right now, he’s kind of running the offense. It’s different from being a disciple of the offense. It takes time that someone needs to learn this system. It takes time to learn this offense.”
Devin Street caught eight passes for 81 yards, followed by Cameron Saddler with six catches for 50 yards. On the ground, Graham carried the ball for the first two series with the Blue team, giving way to walk-on Desmond Brown. Graham returned for one more series in the scrimmage, but carried the ball just five times. Brown led all ball carriers with 15 carries for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Randy Morris ran the ball 13 times for 21 yards.
The Blue team scored on its first three possessions. After the Street touchdown, the Gold answered with a four-yard touchdown run from Morris. The Blue immediately answered with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Shanahan. Shanahan had all three passing plays that covered 30 yards or more on the day—32, 50 and 32. Brown added a one-yard plunge for the Blue, as well.
“We came out quick, started off pretty strong,” Shanahan said. “Then, we had kind of a lull period that set us back, some turnovers. Overall, I thought we played pretty good.”
The Gold forced a total of nine three-and-outs on defense out of 28 total series. Two of those three-and-outs ended up in Gold territory, resulting in two Kevin Harper field goals. Harper added field goals of 52 and 41 yards, kicking into the open end of Heinz Field.
“I’ve gotten used (to the open end) over time,” Harper said. “But, you have to prepare for it like you’re kicking on any other field. I don’t do anything different going into the closed end.”
It took awhile for the defense to get in it. They slowed the offense down after giving up for scores in the first five total possessions for both sides. The defense ended up forcing four turnovers on the day. They came close on another as Andrew Taglianetti jarred the ball loose from Buddy Jackson on a kickoff return. Taglianetti also broke up a pass later in the scrimmage. Pecora picked off a Tino Sunseri pass over the middle intended for Devin Street in the third quarter. Williams picked off a desperation pass in the end zone by Anthony Gonzalez, that was intended for Jake Delmonico. Emanuel Rackard returned a fumble 10 yards for a score. Jarred Holley also came up with an interception.
Carl Fleming led all defensive players with 12 tackles on the day, followed by Rackard and Saheed Imoru. Rackard also tied Aaron Donald for the team-lead with three quarterback hurries.
Though they weren’t able to physically tackle the quarterback, the defense also did its job in impacting the quarterback—one of Todd Graham’s biggest beliefs. The defense finished with a total of nine sacks on the day. Chas Alecxih, Shayne Hale and Fleming each had two sacks for the defensive units—Alecxih for theBlue team, Hale and Fleming for the Gold team. Hale also tied Adam Lazenga for the team-lead with two tackles for losses.
“I was impressed with how they impacted the quarterbacks,” Graham added. “We were very simple today, but we can’t run our defense without pressure. That’s what we do.”
After a stretch of five consecutive three-and-outs, Saddler got the ball in the end zone again for the Blue, scoring a five-yard touchdown run on an end-around, giving Blue a 35-7 lead. Rackard returned the fumble for a touchdown, but the extra point attempt was blocked by Donald.
Brown added another one-yard plunge late in the scrimmage, to close out the scoring, following a 11-play, 80-yard drive. It also marked the final play of the scrimmage.
Overall, for his first official spring as head coach at Pitt, Graham felt the team finished ahead of where he and his staff expected they’d be at this point.
“We got a bunch done,” Graham said. “(co-offensive coordinator) Calvin (Magee) feels we are ahead. (Co-defensive coordinator) Keith (Patterson) is excited, (co-offensive coordinator) Mike (Norvell) feels we’re ahead of where we are. We’re all optimists I could not draw up a better spring than what we had because I’ believe these kids believe in what we’re doing.”
Prior to the game, the recipients of the annual Ed Conway Award was presented; given to the most improved player on offense and defense. Anthony Gonzalez won for the offense, while Tyrone Ezell and Buddy Jackson shared honors for the defense. Gonzalez completed 9-of-26 passes for 82 yards with two interceptions. Jackson had the opening kickoff return. Ezell finished with two tackles and one pass deflection.