MORGANTOWN - Tino Sunseri hasn't had much success against rival West Virginia, and the Mountaineers are well aware that their chances of beating Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl rest with shutting down the Panthers quarterback.
Sunseri has shouldered the responsibilities of Pittsburgh's offense following the loss of Big East rushing leader Ray Graham to injury a month ago.
"He's elevated his game in the last few weeks,'' said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "That's a tribute to coaching them and having a kid that buys into what you're doing.''
Last year, Sunseri threw an early interception that led to a West Virginia touchdown in Pittsburgh's 35-10 loss in his only matchup against the Mountaineers.
Sunseri will face a younger defense this time when Pittsburgh (5-5, 3-2 Big East) plays at West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) on Friday night.
Sunseri's ups and downs have been a microcosm of Pittsburgh's season.
In a 26-23 loss at home to Cincinnati on Nov. 5, Sunseri's fumble led to a Bearcats touchdown and he threw an interception just three plays later. He did drive the Panthers to the Cincinnati 33 with 14 seconds left in the game, though a potential game-tying field goal was wide.
But last week he threw for one touchdown and ran for another in Pittsburgh's first road win of the season, 21-14 at Louisville. Two weeks before that, Graham suffered a season-ending knee injury against Connecticut, and Sunseri responded by throwing for a career-high 419 yards in the win.