After being embarrassed the first two weeks of the season by the like of Youngstown State and Cincinnati, not many people gave the Pitt Panthers a chance Saturday afternoon when Pitt played host to No. 13 Virginia Tech.
But as the old cliché goes – That’s why they play the games.
The Panthers responded to their coaches’ challenge and showed up to play for quarters of football as they upset the Hokies 35-17 Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field, thanks to a complete effort on both sides of the ball.
The much maligned Pitt defense, which allowed over 230 rushing yards per game coming in put together an outstanding effort and make things very tough on Virginia Tech’s athletic playmaking quarterback Logan Thomas. They limited Thomas to only 293 yards of total offense (only 28 on the ground) and forced four turnovers along the way.
That’s the same Pitt defense that played like Swiss cheese against the Penguins and Bearcats, but showed up in a big way against the Hokies to get the Panthers their first win of the season, and the first in the head coaching career of Chryst.
But it wasn’t only the defense that responded as the Pitt offense looked very good and balanced.
The Panthers haven’t led all season until today, but managed 537 total yards of offense on the day (283 passing, 254 rushing) and capitalized on both field position and the Hokies turnovers. Freshman Rushel Shell rushed for 157 yards and Ray Graham added 94 and a pair of scores as the Pitt offensive line pushed around the Hokies all day long. The Panthers also got a solid performance from quarterback Tino Sunseri, who could have been playing for his job. The senior signal caller threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns, not making the usual Sunseri mistakes that kill the Panthers.
Pitt took the opening drive of the game 75 yards and made it 7-0 on a 12-yard touchdown run by Graham. Safety Jarred Holley picked off Thomas on Virginia Tech’s first drive and while the Panthers didn’t score, that opening drive set the tone for the afternoon.
The Panthers scored on their next drive when Sunseri hit Devin Street for a 13-yard touchdown to make it 14-0. Jason Hendricks then picked off Thomas, one of two interceptions on the day for Hendricks, that led to a Kevin Harper missed field goal, but the Panthers’ defense struck quickly as on the Hokies first play from scrimmage, Eric Williams forced and recovered a fumble by Michael Holmes, which led to Graham’s second touchdown run of the afternoon, a five-yard run to make it 21-0.
Virginia Tech tried to get back into the game by playing “Beamer Ball,” as the Hokies cut it to a 21-10 game on a Kyshoen Jarrett 94-yard punt return, but the Panthers answered right back to make it 28-10 on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Graham. The Hokies added another big play to make it 28-17 when Marcus Davis caught an 85-yard touchdown from Thomas, but Sunseri hit Mike Shanahan with a six-yard touchdown to make it 35-17 and give Chryst his first win as the Panthers’ head coach.
Now you have to ask which Pitt team we will see in the future? The one that got steamrolled for two weeks or the one that dominated a very good Virginia Tech Team?
Pitt will get the chance to answer that question next Saturday when they host Gardner-Webb.
PITT- Ray Graham 12- yard run (Kevin Harper kick) 12:17, 7-0
PITT- Devin Street 13-yard pass From Tino Sunseri (Harper kick) 3:09, 14-0
PITT- Graham five-yard run (Harper kick) 13:03, 21-0
VT- Cody Journell 32-yard field goal, 7:57, 21-3
VT- Kyshoen Jarrett 94-yard punt return (Journell kick) 11:57, 21-10
PITT- Graham 18-yard pass from Sunseri (Harper kick) 28-10, 28-10
VT- Marcus Davis 85-yard pass From Logan Thomas (Journell kick) 3:30, 28-17
PITT- Mike Shanahan six-yard pass from Sunseri (Harper kick) 5:33, 35-17
Photo Credit: Matt Freed/Post-Gazette