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Pitt Escapes Maine

September 11, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Todd Graham isn't interested in starting a quarterback controversy at Pittsburgh.

If the Panthers keep struggling to make plays in the passing game, he might get one anyway.

Though Graham remained unbeaten in his new gig after Pitt escaped Maine 35-29 on Saturday, he wasn't exactly overjoyed with a team that struggled to put away a seemingly overmatched opponent for the second straight week.

"We're 2-0, which is about the best thing I can say about it," Graham said.

Pitt won despite the "high octane" attack Graham promised to bring when he was hired in January operating in only fits and starts at best.

Though Ray Graham ran for 121 yards and scored three touchdowns, quarterback Tino Sunseri had trouble making plays happen through the air. The junior threw for 224 yards with two interceptions before giving way to true freshman Trey Anderson in the fourth quarter.

Anderson, a walk-on who wasn't granted a scholarship until a few days before the opener against Buffalo, led the Panthers to a touchdown on his first drive that gave Pitt some needed breathing room.

Todd Graham insisted Sunseri will be the starter when the Panthers (2-0) travel to Iowa next week but allowed it's time for Pitt to get better play at quarterback regardless of who is taking the snaps.

"We've got to execute at that position," Todd Graham said.

Better play from the offensive line would help. Maine sacked Sunseri seven times and kept him under constant duress.

"Mistakes happen in the heat of battle," Sunseri said. "When you're out there you have to make fast decisions and sometimes you make improper decisions."

Sunseri, who watched the fourth quarter from the sidelines with his helmet propped atop his head, tried to put things in perspective. Sure, Pitt wasn't dominant. Yet he'd rather find ways to critique a victory than a defeat.

"Last year at this point we were 1-1 and coming off the loss to Utah," he said. "We're 2-0 and a lot of teams around college football right now are getting upset by teams that are beneath them. We knew that Maine was going to come in and give us the best game they possibly could."

Still, it wasn't quite enough for the Black Bears (1-1), a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, to beat a Football Bowl Subdivision team for the second time under coach Jack Cosgrove.

Not that they didn't try. Though Maine never led, Pitt never got comfortable. Quarterback Warren Smith threw for 334 yards and three scores and the Black Bears scored twice in the final 3:12 to keep things interesting.

"I thought we made Pitt earn everything they got and I thought our offense finally got some things in order," said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove.

Pitt, not so much save for Ray Graham, who is delivering on his coach's promise to be considered among the best backs in the country. He's now scored six touchdowns in two games and provided the kind of consistency lacking elsewhere.

"He is just absolutely phenomenal," Todd Graham said.

The rest of the Panthers could use some work.

The Black Bears were supposed to be a chance at a tune-up before Pitt begins a three-game in 12-day stretch to end the month. Maine proved to be more than that, closing within 20-15 midway through the third quarter on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Derek Session.

The score seemed to get Pitt's attention. The Panthers drove 60 yards in 11 plays, with Graham bulling over from the 1 to put Pitt in front 28-15.

The defense made a stand and the Panthers quickly got the ball back, but Sunseri was intercepted looking for freshman wide receiver Salath Williams in the end zone.

It would be his last throw of the game.

The next time Pitt took the field, Anderson found himself at the controls. He looked comfortable on the stage, leading Pitt to a touchdown and showcasing his arm strength - a concern of Sunseri's - with a deep incompletion in the face of a heavy rush.

It was enough to earn another shot when the Panthers got it back, though Todd Graham insisted that was the plan all along.

"I felt like we had enough confidence in him to put him in," Todd Graham said. "I still have 100 percent belief in Tino."

And Graham still has belief the Panthers can win while going through the growing pains associated with learning a completely new system.

"It's one of those games we played down to the level of competition and I'm responsible for that," he said. "At the end of the day, I told'em after the game, 'Come in here and celebrate when you're winning.'"