Ray Graham runs the ball against Rutgers.
Nov. 24, 2012
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Tino Sunseri passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns in his final home game as Pittsburgh overwhelmed No. 21 Rutgers 27-6 on Saturday.
Ray Graham ran for 113 yards and a score for the Panthers (5-6, 2-4 Big East), who kept their hopes for bowl eligibility alive while drumming the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers (9-2, 5-1) will still play No. 19 Louisville on Thursday with a Bowl Championship Series berth on the line, though the Scarlet Knights head home with little momentum after the Panthers dominated in their last game Heinz Field as a member of the Big East, racing to a 21-0 halftime lead and coasting.
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova passed for 157 yards with a touchdown and an interception but the Scarlet Knights were never in it on a day the Panthers played like the team with everything on the line.
The Scarlet Knights came in the Big East's biggest surprise, rising to the cusp of the school's first Big East title despite losing program architect Greg Schiano to the NFL last winter. First-year coach Kyle Flood stressed his team would not be distracted by an eventful week in which the program announced it was heading to the Big Ten in 2014.
The Scarlet Knights certainly appeared to have their minds on other things on a raw, windy day that made passing hazardous, at least for Rutgers.
Nova was under duress most of the afternoon and left briefly in the first half after getting slammed onto his right (throwing) shoulder. He returned to complete 18 of 37 passes, most of them coming in the second half with the Scarlet Knights in full-out desperation mode.
There were no such problems for the Panthers, who have been an enigma in coach Paul Chryst's first season, haphazardly alternating good and bad performances regardless of the quality of the opponent.
Pitt outgained Rutgers 365-206 and did whatever it wanted against one of the nation's best defenses to beat a ranked opponent for the second time this season.
The Panthers have alternated two-game losing streaks and two-game winning streaks all fall, leading Chryst to joke he hoped the pattern would continue over the final two weeks, allowing the Panthers to become bowl eligible for a fifth straight season.
It shouldn't be an issue if Pitt can take the intensity it showed during an emotional Senior Day to South Florida next week.
Chryst began the afternoon hugging each of the 18 seniors during pregame introductions, a sign how of hard he's worked to restore a sense of trust between the players and the program after Pitt went through four coaches in a span of 14 months, culminating with Chryst's hiring in January.
The seniors believe Pitt is heading in the right direction, and then went out and showed it by having little trouble with the Scarlet Knights in the final game between the two teams for the foreseeable future with Pitt heading to the ACC next fall.
The Panthers took control during a dominant second quarter. Sunseri hit Mike Shanahan for a 16-yard touchdown to give Pitt the lead, and Rutgers never responded.
The Scarlet Knights had the ball eight times in the first half, and punted eight times. Nova never got comfortable in the blustery conditions and Pitt swarmed whichever Rutgers back happened to carry the ball.
Pitt moved in front 14-0 on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Graham before the Panthers showed just how far they've come under Chryst's direction during a flawless 2-minute drill late in the half.
Taking over at the Pitt 45 with 1:19 to go, Sunseri directed the Panthers 55 yards in nine plays, the final one a perfect strike to Ed Tinker from 13 yards out that put the Panthers up 21-0 at the break.
Kevin Harper tacked on a 39-yard field goal early in the third quarter to make it 24-0. Rutgers finally got on board on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Nova to Brandon Coleman late in the third quarter but the 2-point conversion failed and Rutgers never threatened to make it interesting.
Pitt Football Positional Preview: Special Teams
Pitt's Conner Named to Walter Camp Award Watch List
Pitt Football Positional Preview: The Defense
Pitt's Conner Named Preseason Doak Walker Award Candidate
Three Pitt players named Wuerffel Trophy candidates
Pitt's Bisnowaty Named to Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List