Pittsburgh Football: 5 Players That Hold the Key to the Panthers' Season

Jake Adams@jakeadams520Contributor IISeptember 7, 2012

Pittsburgh Football: 5 Players That Hold the Key to the Panthers' Season

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    Well, if you ask just about any Pittsburgh fan I’m pretty sure they’d tell you that 0-2 is not exactly how they envisioned this season starting off.

    It’s been pretty bad to say the least. The Panthers opened the season against Youngstown State, and quickly disappointed. Thursday night they got steamrolled by Big East foe Cincinnati, not exactly how they wanted to kick off their final season in the conference.

    So the team’s basically a mess right now. But who is there that can potentially pick up the pieces of what’s left of this season?

    There are some likely candidates. Running back Ray Graham is the unquestioned star on offense. But who else does the team need to rely on to turn the season around?

    Here are the five players to look at the rest of the season.

1. DL Aaron Donald

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    The Pittsburgh native was the only member of the line with any significant starting experience heading into this season.

    Last year Donald proved himself capable of disrupting anything in the backfield, with 12 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss. And he was a sophomore then.

    The Panthers are looking to him this year to anchor a line switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. He recorded one of the team’s two tackles for a loss against Youngstown state, but that won’t be enough to stop bigger and better teams as the year moves on.

    If the team is going to improve at all in stopping the run (so far that hasn’t been the case), Donald is going to have to show them the way.

2. Any Defensive Lineman

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    It’s two games in so it’s still hard to pinpoint someone else on the line who’s going to be crucial to the defense’s success.

    Nobody outside of Donald made any significant mark last season, so it’s about time to see who’s going to step up.

    But for right now the last key to this season is the entire defensive line. Without significant improvement this season is lost. They have to play better and fast. Yes, the switch to a 4-3 will cause problems, but getting torched for nearly 600 yards on the ground in two games is inexcusable.

    All eyes on are you, big guys.

3. QB Tino Sunseri

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    Sunseri hasn’t exactly been the next Dan Marino, to say the least.

    In three seasons as the starter his completion percentage has been above 64 percent, which is good, but after that there isn’t much to look at. He tossed 10 touchdowns last year against 11 picks.

    This season he’s averaging over 250 yards in Pitt’s two losses. But somebody has to help shoulder the load with Graham still returning to full speed. The offense has been anemic and Sunseri has to find a way to get his team some points.

    If he can take charge and take some of the pressure off his star rusher, the Panthers might just be able to salvage this season.

4. RB Ray Graham

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    He’s back!

    Graham has been one of the team’s few bright spots, but boy has he been bright considering he’s coming back from injury.

    This season he’s averaged 5.3 yards per carry, leading the team with 174 yards. He’s also tacked on 51 yards receiving. The lone black mark on his stat lines is the lack of points. But that has been true for the entire offense.

    As Graham gets stronger, he’ll get the rock more. And the more Pittsburgh finds a way to get him, the ball the better this offense will be. Everything runs through him and their only chance at success is to keep it that way.

    Don’t worry Pitt fans, the TDs will come. 

5. LB Ejuan Price/Shane Gordon

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    Price and Gordon are probably the two backers with the most starting experience, and that’s not a good sign for a defense that’s been run over two weeks in a row.

    Gordon recorded a sack in Thursday’s loss to Cincinnati and also tallied 10 tackles against Youngstown State the week before. So far it seems that he’s transitioned the best to the squads new 4-3 defense.

    As noted earlier, the defensive line is also incredibly inexperienced, which further complicates matters. Only the defensive backs seem to be solid.

    In his freshman campaign last year Price tallied 27 tackles along with four sacks. He’s young and flies to the ball. He has a bright future ahead of him. But he might need to accelerate that future a bit to solidify this defense.

    Gordon started two games while playing in all 13 contests, but never recorded a sack. He did amass 22 tackles, and that career-high looks like it will be all but shattered in the next game.

    This two need to continue to improve, and quickly. That’s about all there is to it.