Pitt hoping for breakthrough under Todd Graham

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It’s a challenge he has embraced, though he’ll do it while working within a very different system than the smash-mouth one traditionally favored by Pitt. The Panthers will work without a huddle and typically have three or four receivers on the field at one time.

Yet Ray Graham doesn’t think the shotgun-heavy formations means the Panthers won’t be able to run it when they want to.

“People think it’s going to be like a spread and we’re going to pass all the time. We’re not,” he said. “With the line we have, we think we can go and just do our thing.”

It’ll be quarterback Tino Sunseri’s job to make sure the ball gets where it needs to go, whether it’s in his star running back’s hands or elsewhere. His coach expects Sunseri to do things “two or three times” faster than he normally would.

That’s going to lead to some mistakes. Graham is fine with that so long as the miscues don’t include turnovers. Sunseri showed he could be efficient last year while throwing for 2,686 yards and 16 touchdowns against nine interceptions. To be effective, though, he’ll also have to be a credible threat with his legs, though he laughed when asked if that means he has to run like former West Virginia star Pat White.

“Not quite,” Sunseri said. “But I know that if they have to prepare for me running, that’s only going to help everybody else.”

Graham understands it’s almost impossible for Sunseri to grasp the finer points of co-offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s attack in eight months. He doesn’t need Sunseri to be the hero … as long as he’s not the goat.

“Being the quarterback in this system is very difficult,” Graham said. “But the offense can operate at full potential as long as we don’t turn the football over.”

Graham thinks if the Panthers snap the ball 80 times a game, at least five of those plays should finish in the end zone. Do the math and that’s at least 35 points a game, a number that would go a long way in the jumbled Big East.

He’s not the only one that thinks Pitt can compete for the conference title right away. The Panthers were picked to finish second in the league and have a user-friendly schedule that features eight home games, including nonconference showdowns with Notre Dame and Utah.

While he downplayed the prognostications, Graham understands he’s expected to win now. It’s one of the reasons why he took the job.

“When we looked at the opportunity to come to Pittsburgh, city of champions, it’s pretty obvious they want us to win championships,” he said. “Anything less than winning championships is unacceptable.”

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