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September 11, 2011

Did Pitt play down to Maine?

Pitt improved to 2-0 with a 35-29 win over Maine at Heinz Field on Saturday, but the post-game atmosphere didn't much reflect victory.

"About the most positive thing I can say is we're 2-0," head coach Todd Graham said after the game. "That was definitely played down to the level of competition."

Coaches often stress not overlooking opponents, even unremarkable FCS teams like Maine. And while Graham didn't say that the players necessarily overlooked the Black Bears, he does seem to think there were issues with the focus.

"We had chances to capitalize and put the game away…and [we] just let somebody hang around," Graham said. "It's one of those games that we played down to the level of competition. That's it. And I'm responsible for that."

Graham took responsibility, but his words clearly issued an imperative to the players. For their part, Pitt's players felt like they gave Maine the necessary respect.

"I didn't get the sense that we played down to their competition, because you can't take anybody lightly," redshirt junior receiver Mike Shanahan said. "We just have to keep working on details and big things are going to come.

"I don't think anybody was like, 'Oh Maine, we can take it easy.' But if Coach Graham feels like that, maybe that's what it is."

Pitt's struggles were all over the place on Saturday. The offense turned the ball over twice and recorded less than 400 yards, when the Panthers were clearly capable of more. The defense allowed Maine to convert a number of big plays in the second half and get within six points of Pitt's lead. And even the kicking game struggled, as Kevin Harper missed another field goal on Saturday and missed his first extra-point attempt of the game.

"It was very lackluster," Graham said. "We had a good week of preparation, and I thought we started off the game playing well at times. But then it just kind of played down to the level of competition. We have to get a whole bunch better and start executing."

"Everything didn't go our way, but that's going to happen in games and you're going to have games like this," said redshirt junior tight end Hubie Graham. "We're improving each week, and we can see that; it's just a couple tweaks here, a couple tweaks there that need to be executed."

Those tweaks will need to take place sooner rather than later, as Pitt's 2011 schedule gets considerably more difficult next week when the Panthers go to Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost to Iowa State this weekend, but they are still a step up from Maine, who Todd Graham referred to as "an opponent that we should go out and totally dominate."

"Believe me, everybody in that lockerroom is disappointed in how we played, and we felt like we can play a lot better than that," redshirt junior quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "The biggest thing is that we need to go back, watch the tape, and get ready for Iowa."





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