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Five questions with Cardiac Hill

Anson from the Pittsburgh blog Cardiac Hill wanted to trade some questions on this weekend's game, so here you go.

On the Banks: Does the Pitt offense work better with Ray Graham or Dion Lewis in the backfield?

Cardiac Hill: Truthfully, I don't know and I'm not sure Dave Wannstedt does, either. Lewis really struggled early on this year in the first three games and the trendy excuse was that the offensive line was not as good. But somehow, Graham put together significantly better numbers with that same line. Over the past two, Lewis has looked much more like the 2009 version as he's averaged about five yards per carry. But the 'problem' for Lewis is that Graham has been consistent all season. Graham averaged an astounding nine-plus yards per carry in his first three games and while that number has dropped to around five since then, he's clearly fought his way into the rotation.
If I had to pick just one, I think Graham's earned it a bit more. But I really have no issue with Pitt playing both guys and both are capable of big things. Pitt's strength may be in using two guys throughout the game, giving the team a threat to take it the distance on any given play.

On the Banks: What have been the strengths and weaknesses so far for Pitt this year? Biggest surprises either way?

Cardiac Hill: The team's been so inconsistent, but the biggest strength is the running game. Other than the first game against Utah when Graham was injured, the running game has had at least one consistent performer. Another strength has been the play of the defensive line, particularly the ends, Jabaal Sheard and Brandon Lindsey who have combined for ten sacks. Similarly, Graham and Lindsey have been two of the team's biggest surprises. Graham had that huge 277-yard performance against FIU and with 589 yards on the season, is averaging 8.3 ypc. Lindsey, who's stepped in for Romeus, has actually put up similar numbers in terms of tackles and his five sacks are only one behind Romeus' entire 2009 total.

I obviously won't say he's better than Romeus because Greg really put a lot of pressure on the QB even if he didn't get the sack, but Lindsey is having a great year. The team's biggest weakness to be honest may be stupid penalties. Pitt is one of the most penalized teams in the nation this year and had another ten last week against Syracuse. If we're talking about a specific position, it would likely be that offensive line I mentioned earlier. But even that unit is playing better (no false start penalties last week, which had been a big issue) and I'm noticing them less and less during games.

On the Banks: How has Tino Sunseri looked in his first year as a starting quarterback?

Cardiac Hill: Regular readers of my blog know that I'm a Tino fan. He's showed a lot of poise and is only getting better each week. Playing in a difficult environment in his first start at Utah, he didn't put up great numbers, but he got better as the game went along. He's played fairly well in every game this season except against Miami and in the past two weeks, he's completed 70% of his passes and thrown for 550 yards. His TD/INT ratio for the entire season is 3:1 (9 TDs/3 INTs). For a first year starter, playing some tough teams like Miami, Utah, and to a lesser degree, Notre Dame, he's done pretty well. And as evidenced by his three interceptions through six games, he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. For his first season, I'd say he's looking pretty good. If he were a senior and a three-year starter, you might say he hasn't been all that great. But again, given the circumstances, I have no complaints.

On the Banks: How has Pitt dealt with losing players like Greg Romeus and Dan Mason to injury?

Cardiac Hill: As I mentioned before with Brandon Lindsey, Pitt has missed very little in terms of actual production. You can talk about leadership, intangibles, pressures on the quarterback, etc., but Lindsey's been a pleasant surprise. Losing Mason, to me, hurt not so much in actual production on the field, but in him missing out on a year of development. Mason's a freak, but his work in passing situations needed to be improved. Max Gruder has been fine and, while Mason may be a little better, Pitt hasn't missed him to the point where it's extremely noticeable. Instead of Mason coming out next season with a full-year under his belt, he's going to have some catching up to do.

On the Banks: What is your current impression about the present and future state of Panther football?

Cardiac Hill: Man, this could turn into a thesis-length answer if I'm not careful, but in a nutshell, I think both are fine. Fans aren't happy about the current year, but this can still be a good season. Before the season, I wrote a piece for SB Nation Pittsburgh about why this wouldn't be the big undefeated or one-loss season that some fans were hoping for. I just thought the team wasn't quite there. Sure I hoped that they could put together a 9-3 / 10-2 type season, but if it ends up going 8-4 and wins the conference, it's not the end of the world. Pitt was a bit ambitious in its non-conference scheduling and is paying a big price right now.

But the bottom line is that Wannstedt has been recruiting like crazy and has won 19 games the past two seasons. That isn't elite, but it ain't bad and it's a step in the right direction. 2011's recruiting class is looking like his best ever and could be in the nation's top 15. The thing about Wannstedt is that he may disappoint a little with some of his in-game coaching, but he's recruited better and better, and even in down seasons, still put together very good classes. I think Pitt's time will come, just not overnight. Wannstedt won't be around forever, but he's put a good foundation in place and won't be handing over an empty cupboard to his successor. The team plays in a world class facility and to me, has a bright future.