PISCATAWAY, N.J. (KDKA/AP) — After looking so good last week against South Florida in their conference opener, the Pitt Panthers struggled Saturday afternoon in a 34-10 in a loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Pitt’s sensational junior Ray Graham rushed for 165 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown fourth-quarter run. Kevin Harper added a short field goal for the Panthers, but their high-octane offense was limited to just 271 yards in the loss.
For Rutgers, freshman Gary Nova threw two third-quarter touchdowns in his first start. Meanwhile, the defense intercepted four passes with Logan Ryan returning his second of the game 45 yards for a touchdown.
Nova hit Mark Harrison on a 6-yard touchdown pass after Rutgers’ third interception and connected with fullback Joe Martinek on a 60-yard screen pass as the Scarlet Knights (4-1, 2-0 Big East) handed Pitt (3-3, 1-1) its third loss in four games.
Savon Huggins scored on a 3-yard run and San San Te kicked two long field goals for Rutgers, which is 2-0 in league play for only the second time in 21 years in the Big East. The only other time was 2006, when the Scarlet Knights went 11-2 and lost the conference title to West Virginia in triple overtime.
The big question all week for Rutgers was who would start at quarterback. Nova had replaced Chas Dodd in the second half in rallying Rutgers to a double-overtime win over Syracuse, and coach Greg Schiano said his decision would be made at game time.
Nova, who decommitted to Pitt after Dave Wannstedt was fired, got the call and made plays when needed. He finished 11 of 24 for 174 yards and no interceptions, although he put two snaps on the ground that the Scarlet Knights recovered.
The constant for Rutgers was its defense, which came into the game with 18 turnovers, which was tied with Cincinnati for No. 1 in the nation. It pushed the number to 22 with the four picks.
The defense recorded six sacks for 50 yards in losses and its play helped the Scarlet Knights score 17 points.
A stop deep in Pitt territory set up Te’s career-long 50-yard field goal that tied the game at 3. An interception by Steve Beauharnais deep in Panther territory led to Nova’s touchdown pass to Harrison for a 13-3 lead and Ryan’s late pick of Tino Sunseri, who was benched at the start of the second half and brought back after Trey Anderson threw the ball to Beauharanis, closed out the scoring.
Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene, Graham’s brother, led the Scarlet Knights with 10 tackles and 1½ sacks.
The Scarlet Knights led 6-3 after a mistake filled first half that featured a combined three turnovers, 11 penalties and 3 of 16 on third-down conversions.
Pitt scored on its opening possession, marching 74 yards in 14 plays with Harper kicking a 29-yard field goal.
Te tied the game with a career-long 50 yard field goal and he added 44-yard in the second quarter that was set up by Nova’s 28-yard pass to Harrison.
Rutgers took command in the third quarter with Beauharnais’ interception and return to the 18-yard line, setting up Nova’s touchdown pass to Harrison. A pass interference penalty gave the Scarlet Knights a first and goal.
The game breaker was the 60-yard screen pass to Martinek for a touchdown. Pitt came with heavy pressure and the screen left Martinek with one player to beat and about four blockers as an escort.
Next week, Pitt takes on Utah at Heinz Field.