Sept. 17, 2012
Pitt (1-2, 0-1 Big East) vs. Gardner-Webb (0-3, 0-0 Big South)
Sept. 22, 2012 • 3:30 p.m., ET • ESPN3
Heinz Field (65,050/Grass) • Pittsburgh, Pa.
Pitt Game Notes Link: Gardner-Webb Game
Pitt - Gardner-Webb Storylines
• Coming off one of its biggest victories in recent memory, Pitt looks to continue its newfound momentum when it hosts Gardner-Webb at Heinz Field. The Panthers routed No. 13 Virginia Tech, 35-17, this past week to earn their first win under new head coach Paul Chryst.
• The Panthers want to build upon their most productive offensive performance in 12 years when they face Gardner-Webb. Pitt rolled up an incredible 537 yards against Virginia Tech’s perennially stout defense, the Panthers’ highest yardage output since 2000.
• Pitt had its finest defensive performance of the season in the Virginia Tech win, forcing four turnovers and limiting the Hokies to 59 rushing yards. The Panthers had failed to force a turnover in their opening two games but had three interceptions and a fumble recovery against Virginia Tech.
• Gardner-Webb is led by second-year head coach Ron Dickerson Jr., whose father was a Pitt assistant coach under Jackie Sherrill in 1979 and 1980. The elder Dickerson went on to serve as head coach at Big East member Temple (1992-97) as well as Alabama State (1998-99).
• Prior to earning the Gardner-Webb head coaching post, Ron Dickerson Jr., was the receivers coach at Ole Miss, where he worked with current Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Mike Wallace.
• Pitt secondary coach Matt House served as the defensive line coach at Gardner-Webb in 2005. While at GWU, House coached defensive end Brian Johnston, who would go on to earn consensus All-America status and be drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Pitt – Gardner-Webb Series Notes
This is the first-ever meeting between Pitt and Gardner-Webb...the Runnin’ Bulldogs are a member of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and Big South Conference...Gardner-Webb is 4-9 all-time against current Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams...its most recent victory against an FBS school came in 2010, a 38-37 overtime win at Akron...in 2008, Gardner-Webb narrowly lost at Georgia Tech, 10-7...Pitt is 10-1 against FCS foes.
Pitt – Gardner-Webb Series in Brief
Series Began: 2012
Series Overall: 0-0
At Pittsburgh: 0-0
At Gardner-Webb: 0-0
At Neutral Sites: 0-0
Last Meeting: 2012 marks first meeting
Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: DNA
Longest Gardner-Webb Series Win Streak: DNA
Largest Pitt Margin of Victory: DNA
Largest Gardner-Webb Margin of Victory: DNA
Pitt – Gardner-Webb Broadcast Information
Television • ESPN3
Shawn Kenney, play-by-play
John Gregory, analyst
Rontina McCann, reporter
Pitt Radio • Sportsradio 93.7 The Fan & the Pitt IMG Sports Network
Rob King, play-by-play
Pat Bostick, analyst
Gregg Giannotti, reporter
Internet Audio • Panthers All-Access
SiriusXM Satellite Radio
Sirius Channel 139
Pitt Team Notes
A Big “W” in Many Ways
Pitt’s 35-17 win over No. 13 Virginia Tech at Heinz Field on Sept. 15 marked the Panthers’ first of the season following an 0-2 start. The victory was also Paul Chryst’s first as head coach at Pitt.
Pitt’s resounding win snapped the nation’s longest road winning streak. Virginia Tech had won an ACC-record 13 consecutive road contests (not counting bowls) prior to visiting Heinz Field. Before falling to Pitt, the Hokies’ last loss on the road came to Georgia Tech in 2009.
Rated No. 13 by both major polls, Virginia Tech was the highest-ranked team Pitt had defeated since a 26-21 road win at No. 10 USF in 2008. It was also the highest-ranked foe the Panthers had defeated in a regular-season non-conference game since 1989 when Pitt was an Eastern independent and beat No. 10 Syracuse, 30-23, in Pitt Stadium.
The win improved the Panthers to 1-2 on the 2012 season and helped them avoid their first 0-3 start since 2005.
Impressive Offensive Output
Pitt used one of its most impressive offensive performances in recent memory to defeat nationally ranked Virginia Tech, 35-17, on Sept. 15. The Panthers produced 537 yards in total offense (283 passing and 254 rushing), their highest single-game production since compiling 584 yards (332 passing and 252 rushing) in a 42-26 win over Boston College on Oct. 21, 2000.
A Winning Shell Game
Freshman tailback Rushel Shell was a key offensive catalyst in Pitt’s 35-17 win over Virginia Tech by rushing for 157 yards on 23 attempts, an impressive 6.8-yard average. Shell became the first Pitt freshman to rush for 100 yards in a game since Dion Lewis had 159 against North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26, 2009. (Pitt defeated the Tar Heels, 19-17.)
Lewis had 10 100-yard games as a true freshman in 2009 en route to 1,799 yards, the second-highest single-season rushing total in school history. Lewis’ total trails only Tony Dorsett, who had 2,150 rushing yards during his 1976 Heisman Trophy season.
By comparison, Dorsett also had 10 100-yard games as a freshman in 1973 (finishing with 1,686 yards in 12 games), while LeSean McCoy had seven 100-yard games as a frosh in 2007 (totaling 1,328).
Ray Returning to Form
Senior tailback Ray Graham is beginning to show a return to healthy form after spending the offseason rehabilitating from right knee (ACL) surgery.
Graham has been Pitt’s starting tailback in all three games this year and has 268 rushing yards on 57 carries (4.7 avg.). Against Cincinnati (Sept. 6), he rushed for 103 yards on 19 attempts, his first 100-yard game since getting injured. Graham nearly reached 100 yards in Pitt’s victory over Virginia Tech, netting 94 yards on 24 carries. He also scored three touchdowns against the Hokies (two rushing and one receiving).
Seasoned Signal Caller
Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri has started 29 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener at Utah. Sunseri’s starting streak is the longest by a Pitt quarterback since Tyler Palko made 35 consecutive starts from 2004-06. Palko started every single game for the Panthers during those three seasons.
Alex Van Pelt holds the school record for consecutive games started as well as total starting assignments by a Pitt quarterback. Van Pelt started every game during his four-year career (46 starts from 1989-92). He also is the school’s career leader in passing yards (11,267) and total offense (11,148). Sunseri ranks sixth at Pitt in career passing yards (6,102) and seventh in total offense (6,276).
Tino on Target
Tino Sunseri’s performance in Pitt’s 35-17 victory over No. 13 Virginia Tech ranked among the finest of his career. Sunseri completed 68% of his passes (19 of 28) for 283 yards with three touchdowns against just one interception.
Sunseri was especially instrumental in helping Pitt gain a 21-3 lead at halftime. Over the opening two quarters he completed 10-of-14 passes (71%) for 185 yards and a TD.
His third scoring pass of the day — a six-yard connection to Mike Shanahan with 5:33 left in the game — capped a 15-play, 88-yard drive that took 7:44 off the clock and iced the final result.
Shanahan Joins 100-Catch Club
Senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan is Pitt’s leader in receptions (16) and receiving yards (224). He recently became the 17th player in school history to reach 100 catches for his career.
Shanahan currently ranks 13th all-time at Pitt with 113 career receptions.
Junior wideout Devin Street is also closing in on the 100-catch milestone with 91 career receptions.
After failing to force a turnover in either of its first two games, the Pitt defense came up with four in the Panthers’ 35-17 victory over No. 13 Virginia Tech.
Additionally, sophomore linebacker Eric Williams had Pitt’s first fumble recovery of the season. Williams recovered a fumble (forced by redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Cook) at the Virginia Tech 10 in the second quarter. Ray Graham rushed for a five-yard TD two plays later to give Pitt a 21-0 lead.
Holding the Hokies
Pitt limited the traditionally strong Virginia Tech rushing attack to only 59 yards on 26 carries, an average of just 2.3 yards per attempt. The Hokies only had two runs over nine yards for the game. Quarterback Logan Thomas had Virginia Tech’s longest rush, an 11-yard carry in the second quarter.
Gordon Growing Up
In his first season as a full-time starter, junior middle linebacker Shane Gordon continues to elevate his performance from a leadership and production standpoint.
Gordon leads Pitt in tackles (23), TFLs (tied, 3.0), sacks (1.5) and pass breakups (four). He made critical back-to-back plays in the Virginia Tech victory when in the third quarter he helped stuff the Hokies for no gain on 3rd-and-1 and then again on 4th-and-1 from the Pitt 35. The Panthers, leading 21-10 at the time, took over on downs and drove 65 yards for a touchdown to go up 28-10.
Donald Draws Attention
Junior Aaron Donald was on nearly everyone’s preseason All-America checklist following a standout 2011 season. Rotating across the defensive front, Donald compiled 47 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 11 hurries and a forced fumble last year. Donald became only the fifth Pitt player since 1991 to compile 10 or more sacks in a season. He ranked seventh nationally in that category with an average of 0.85 per game.
As the leader of Pitt’s inexperienced front seven, Donald has been the target of double teams throughout the opening three contests. He has eight tackles, five quarterback hurries and two TFLs on the early season.
In the Virginia Tech victory, he made a key play following an interception that gave the Hokies possession at the Pitt 36 early in the fourth period and the Panthers protecting a 28-17 lead. On first down, Donald burst through the line and tackled J.C. Coleman for a six-yard loss. Virginia Tech then threw two incompletions and had to punt away, ending the threat.
Strong Start for Yoklic
Junior punter Matt Yoklic is averaging 44.9 yards on 14 punts this year to rank 17th nationally. Yoklic has placed five punts inside the 20-yard line through three games. At Cincinnati, he averaged a season-best 45.3 yards on seven punts and had two downed at the Bearcats’ one-yard line.
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