Wannstedt showing no worries as tough opener nears

Season openers aren’t supposed to be this difficult for a team

such as No. 15 Pittsburgh.

The Panthers are going into Thursday night’s game at Utah with a

first-time starting quarterback (Tino Sunseri), a center who went

on scholarship only last week (Alex Karabin), two new starting

cornerbacks (Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed), plus a new middle

linebacker (Dan Mason).

That’s a lot of inexperience to take into a stadium where the

home team hasn’t lost in three years.

With only one senior who’s a returning starter on offense – left

tackle Jason Pinkston – it’s by far the youngest of the six teams

Dave Wannstedt has coached at his alma mater.

Still, if Wannstedt is overly worried about Pitt’s first road

opener since 1993, he’s not showing it. He is convinced that

difficult games like this one, plus upcoming non-conference games

against No. 13 Miami and Notre Dame, will illustrate the depth and

talent that has been building at Pitt for several seasons.

That’s why Wannstedt decided such an opener would be only

beneficial, not detrimental, as Pitt tries to follow up on its

first 10-win season since 1981.

”I think that whether you have 25 seniors or you have nine

seniors, it’s the quality,” Wannstedt said Monday. ”What is this

group made up of? And when we hit the adversity, which every team

hits every year, I believe our guys will respond the right way.

Sometimes being a little bit younger, kids are excited about the

opportunity to play, and they’re more focused on what they should

be focused on. … And we’ve reached the point where there won’t be

too many freshmen that play unless we need them.”

Sunseri, a redshirt sophomore, has thrown only 17 passes in the

regular season, but his teammates said they’re comfortable with

Sunseri running Wannstedt’s pro-style offense. Bill Stull had to

beat out Sunseri a year ago to keep his starting job, and Stull

went on to become the all-Big East quarterback.

”He brings an air of confidence to the huddle, and we respond

positively off his attitude. It was the same with Bill last year,

and he had a great year. We expect Tino to have the same,”

fullback Henry Hynoski said. ”He brings big-play capability to our

offense, because of his arm strength, so that’s another factor for

us.”

To guard against Sunseri getting too worked up for his first

regular season start, Wannstedt sat him down a few days ago and

reminded him what’s expected of him.

”I gave him a few stories of other quarterbacks, both on this

level and the NFL, that were starting off their careers for the

first time,” said Wannstedt, the former Bears and Dolphins coach.

”I really wanted to make the point to him that he’s one of 11

players on offense. We’re not the type of offense where Tino’s the

only one who needs to make plays. … I want him to have the

mindset of being confident, but also going into this game feeling

that there’s no more of a burden on his shoulder to carry than any

other player on offense.”

Utah’s spread offense has consumed much of Pitt’s preparation

time, although Wannstedt said both West Virginia and South Florida

run similar formations and plays. Pitt held West Virginia to a

combined 43 points the last three seasons, winning twice.

While Pitt is mostly inexperienced in the secondary, defensive

ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard are coming off big seasons and

nose tackle Myles Caragein had five sacks as a backup. Mason, who

replaces Adam Gunn at middle linebacker, had a strong training

camp.

”They spread you out,” Wannstedt said of the Utes, who

averaged 30.5 points in six home games last season. ”They have a

lot of screens, a run game; they do a good job of mixing it up. …

They have a lot of offense. A lot of the stuff we’ve been working

on in preparation for Utah will carry on all season for our

team.”

However, Wannstedt said, no team truly knows how it will play

until the first game that counts.

”We have a good plan,” he said. ”Everybody has a good plan

until you get hit in the mouth. Then you see how good the plan

is.”