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Huskies offense stalls again in 35-20 loss to Pitt

Connecticut quarterback Johnny McEntee (18) rolls out of the pocket during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011, in Pittsburgh. Connecticut quarterback Johnny McEntee (18) rolls out of the pocket during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
By Will Graves
AP Sports Writer / October 27, 2011

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PITTSBURGH—Connecticut spent 10 days trying to figure out a way to stop Pittsburgh star running back Ray Graham.

The Huskies never saw Tino Sunseri coming.

The Pitt quarterback lit up the UConn defense for 419 yards and two touchdowns after Graham went down with a knee injury in the first quarter to lead the Panthers to a 35-20 victory that left the Huskies reeling.

"We were definitely geared up for Ray Graham and the run game, they have a great run game," UConn linebacker Sio Moore said. "They did some things that were a little brand new. At the same time, they did some things where they just made a play on us."

And the Huskies (3-5, 1-2 Big East) didn't have an answer.

Lyle McCombs ran for 124 yards but UConn could get little going in the passing game when it mattered. Johnny McEntee completed 17 of 33 passes for 193 yards and two scores, but the Big East's worst offense again struggled to move the ball for long stretches.

"It seemed like every game we do a pretty good job on certain drives and move the ball really well either we can't get a touchdown in the red zone or can't do it the whole game," McEntee said. "We just have to work on that."

There's plenty of work to go around for the defending Big East champions, who scored all of three offensive touchdowns during a forgettable October in which they lost three of four games.

"This (stuff) can't go on anymore," McEntee said. "We're going home and this is not going to be tolerated."

Particularly if UConn has any hopes of staying alive in the wide-open Big East. The Huskies didn't look like contenders during a rare midweek national television appearance.

Sunseri, whose grasp of the starting job has been tenuous this season, completed 29 of 42 passes and his 419 yards matched the most by a Pitt quarterback in eight years.

"As a quarterback you just want to move the ball down the field, and I felt like we were able to move the ball consistently and we were able to complete passes," Sunseri said.

Even if his coach thought Sunseri would complete a couple more.

"I thought we would throw for 500, I really did," Todd Graham said. "Our rhythm was really there tonight. ... That's what I'm used to."

Just not at Pitt.

Graham built his reputation by turning Tulsa into an offensive juggernaut and hoped for a quick transformation with the Panthers. The "high octane" attack he promised in the offseason has only shown itself occasionally.

Thinking his players were tentative because they were thinking too much, Graham simplified things over the past week. The trimmed down playbook worked.

The Panthers (4-4, 2-1) had little trouble moving the ball against the Huskies behind Sunseri, who made his coach's vote of confidence pay off with the best game of his career.

Pitt needed it when Graham crumpled to the ground at midfield after having his right leg pinned awkwardly underneath him while getting tackled by UConn's Jory Johnson following a 1-yard gain.

Graham clutched the back of his leg before being helped off the field, where he punched an equipment table before heading to the locker room.

The nation's second-leading rusher returned to the field in street clothes and is expected to have an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of the injury.

The Panthers looked dramatically different without their star running back, but the embattled Sunseri appeared capable of keeping the offense afloat. Hitting receivers underneath and letting them do the work, Sunseri picked apart UConn's defense all night.

His legs weren't bad either. Sunseri ran for a team-high 40 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown four plays after Graham went down that gave Pitt a quick 7-0 lead.

Sunseri was just getting started. He hit Mike Shanahan for a 17-yard score to put the Panthers up 14-0 and led a 68-yard drive late in the first half that ended with a 3-yard dive by Zach Brown to put the Panthers up 21-3.

UConn made a game of it briefly after McEntee hit Kashif Moore for a 62-yard touchdown pass -- the Huskies' first offensive score in nearly a month -- and David Teggart drilled a 31-yard field goal to bring UConn within 21-13 midway through the third quarter.

The Panthers responded quickly, going 82 yards in just five plays with Shanahan doing most of the work on a 27-yard touchdown pass to put Pitt up 28-13.

The Huskies couldn't get back in it, and Pitt finished off UConn with a late touchdown pass from freshman wide receiver Ronald Jones to Devin Street.

"I thought our guys fought, but we just didn't play well enough tonight," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said.