PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — It was another tough day for Pitt as the Utah Utes rolled into town and managed to roll past the Panthers 26-14 Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Pitt was looking to get back on track after struggling in their 34-10 loss at Rutgers last weekend, but the Panthers managed just 120 total yards and turned the ball over three times.
The reconfigured offensive line allowed quarterbacks Tino Sunseri and Trey Anderson to get sacked six times, and running back Ray Graham had a season-low 46 yards.
“Just [a] dismal performance and just embarrassing,” said Todd Graham, Pitt’s head coach, after the game. “Their defense is good but it’s not that good. We absolutely played terrible on offense.”
Meanwhile, the Utes may have been injury-riddled as they were playing without leading receiver DeVonte Christopher and quarterback Jordan Wynn, but they won by holding onto the ball.
John White ran for 171 yards and Coleman Petersen kicked four field goals in the tricky Heinz Field winds as Utah (3-3) snapped its own two-game losing streak and improved to 9-0 all-time against current members of the Big East.
Petersen, who’d made four field goals all year coming in, converted kicks of 23, 34, 39 and 45 yards in winds that gusted over 30 mph.
And Utah’s Derrick Shelby returned a late interception 21 yards for a touchdown as the Utes sent Pitt (3-4) to its second straight loss.
Quarterback Jon Hays completed 14 of 23 passes, 127 yards and a score without throwing an interception, though the game belonged to White, Petersen and Utah’s front seven.
White carried the ball 35 times, allowing Utah to hold the ball for nearly 38 minutes. Though the Utes had trouble finishing drives, Petersen found a way to deal with the swirling winds that ruffled officials’ pants and made throwing the ball nearly impossible.
Not that Sunseri or Anderson had time to throw. Pitt came in allowing 28 sacks on the season, easily the highest in the country.
Coach Todd Graham shuffled the line in hopes of providing some protection, moving Matt Rotheram to right tackle and Jordan Gibbs to center.
But it didn’t work. Sunseri and Anderson spent most of the day trying to scramble out of danger. When they did they combined to complete 9 of 30 passes for 50 yards.
Their inability to get anything going allowed the Utes to focus on Ray Graham, who came in averaging nearly 150 yards a game and was off to the best six-game start in the program’s history.
There were no holes to be had this time as the “high octane” offense Todd Graham promised when he took over in January fizzled for the second straight game.
Utah’s line wasn’t much better than Pitt’s, giving up seven sacks, but the Utes were able to move the ball enough to put Petersen in position to convert. He gave Utah the lead with a 39-yard kick in the third quarter then added a career-long 45 yarder in the fourth quarter to push Utah’s lead to 19-14.
The Panthers moved to the Utah 35 midway through the fourth quarter but Anderson threw incomplete on fourth down. It would be Pitt’s last chance. Anderson was intercepted twice in the final minutes, including a botched screen pass to Ray Graham that Shelby picked off and hustled down the sideline for the game-sealing touchdown with 1:12 to play.
Even with the offense sputtering, the Panthers took a 14-13 halftime lead behind a pair of spectacular special teams plays.
Buddy Jackson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, bouncing off two Utah tacklers at the Pitt 15 before sprinting to the outside and racing down the sideline for a score.
The unit needed just four plays to strike again. The Pitt defense forced a three-and-out and Alex Taglianetti blocked Nick Marsh’s punt. Antwuan Reed picked up the loose ball at the 10 and strolled into the end zone to put Pitt up 14-3, the first punt block for a score by the Panthers since 1995.
Utah rallied to get within a point thanks to a little luck. Hays hit Luke Matthews for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 2:07 to go in the half. Hays heaved the ball in the face of a heavy rush and Pitt linebacker Max Gruder deflected it into Matthews’ hands.
The momentum carried over into the second half as Utah continued its domination of the Big East.
Up next, Pitt takes on the UConn Huskies at 8 p.m. on Oct. 26 at Heinz Field.