BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (KDKA/AP) – All the coaching controversy couldn’t keep the Pitt Panthers down in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday afternoon in Alabama.
Two mistakes by Kentucky’s punting team allowed the Panthers to score touchdowns as they beat the Wildcats 27-10.
Andrew Taglianetti blocked a punt to set up Pitt’s first touchdown late in the first half. An incomplete pass on Kentucky’s fake punt early in the second half set up Tino Sunseri’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Brock DeCicco. Sunseri also ran for a touchdown.
The Panthers (8-5) protected the lead with their running game as the players dedicated their win to former coach Dave Wannstedt, who was forced to resign after a disappointing regular season.
Sunseri completed 9 of 19 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown.
Dion Lewis ran for 105 yards and a touchdown, and Ray Graham added 90 yards rushing as the Panthers outgained Kentucky 261-104 on the ground.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, Pitt’s acting head coach for the bowl game, was hired Friday to be defensive coordinator at Baylor. Bennett was soaked with a cooler with a little more than one minute remaining.
Kentucky (6-7), playing without suspended quarterback Mike Hartline, fell far below its average of 33 points per game. Morgan Newton, making his first start of the season, was 21 of 36 passing for 211 yards.
Pitt led 20-3 before the Wildcats’ only touchdown, a 1-yard run by Moncell Allen late in the third quarter. The, the Panthers answered with a long drive and 2-yard touchdown run by Lewis.
Randall Cobb set the Southeastern Conference’s single-season record for all-purpose yards, but the versatile junior wasn’t enough for the Wildcats to overcome their special teams mistakes.
Pitt led 6-3 on two field goals by Dan Hutchins before Taglianetti blocked Ryan Tydlacka’s punt late in the first half. Tydlacka appeared to take an extra step before attempting a rugby style punt.
Pitt’s Kolby Gray recovered at the Kentucky 10, which set up Sunseri’s one-yard scoring run for a 13-3 lead with only 34 seconds remaining in the half.
Kentucky’s first possession of the second half ended with another key mistake by its punting team. Matt Roark took the snap on the apparent punt but he didn’t have time to make his planned pass. He was ruled down on the Kentucky 35 before throwing an incomplete pass.
Following a 21-yard run by Graham, Sunseri’s touchdown pass to DeCicco gave the Panthers a 20-3 lead.
Craig McIntosh gave Kentucky a 3-0 lead with a 50-yard field goal, matching the longest of the sophomore’s career, in the first quarter. The kick was the longest in the five-year history of the bowl.
McIntosh missed from 41 yards in the fourth quarter.
In the second quarter, there were offsetting personal fouls when players traded punches.
Tempers flared when the Panthers were called for a false start and a Kentucky player hit Sunseri as officials attempted to stop the play. Pitt’s Jason Pinkston responded with a shove to set off the brawl.
Coaches were successful in keeping players on the sideline.
Cobb passed former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden’s 2007 SEC record of 2,310 all-purpose yards. Cobb entered the game 119 yards behind McFadden’s mark.