Slow start dooms Pitt in loss to Cincinnati
CINCINNATI — Pitt's defense gave up huge chunks of yardage throughout the game. The offense wasted every good scoring opportunity.
The result was a 34-10 loss to Cincinnati on Thursday night in front of a crowd of 33,562 at Nippert Stadium. Until Pitt scored a meaningless touchdown with 34 seconds left, the game marked the school's worst offensive performance since a 31-3 loss to Miami in 2010.
“Tonight, we played two opponents,” coach Paul Chryst said. “We fought against ourselves, and we had to play a good Cincinnati team.”
Chryst admitted there might be some positive points to take from the game, but that is a small consolation.
“It's hard to think that now after clearly getting beat,” he said.
Pitt's defense played well for a brief period in the first half of its Big East opener, but it ultimately could not contain Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux, who carried six times for 117 yards.
He also threw for 205 yards, including 15- and 12-yard screen passes for touchdowns to Ralph David Abernathy IV. Overall, Cincinnati gained 464 yards, including 259 on the ground (the second week in a row the opponent has surpassed 200).
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri could have changed the tone of the game in the second quarter before Cincinnati (1-0, 1-0) turned it into a rout in the second half. But he threw an interception in the end zone and later let the clock run out with an indecisive throw through the back of the end zone.
Sunseri completed 24 of 37 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown and was sacked six times. Running back Ray Graham ran hard on his surgically repaired right knee, gaining 103 yards on 19 carries.
Pitt (0-2, 0-1) never could make a clutch play on offense. In the third quarter, when Pitt moved to the Cincinnati 15-yard line, the result was only a 37-yard field goal by Kevin Harper.
Pitt appeared to slice the lead in half with six minutes left before halftime when Graham crossed the goal line on a 6-yard run, but guard Chris Jacobson was caught holding. Three plays later, Sunseri's pass was intercepted in the end zone by linebacker Greg Blair.
After Cincinnati had taken a 17-0 lead, Pitt again moved toward the goal line. But time was running out in the first half.
With a first-and-goal from the 4, Sunseri twice threw incomplete to wide receiver Devin Street on fade passes to the corner of the end zone. When a Cincinnati pass interference penalty gave Pitt a first down at the 1 with five seconds left, Chryst put the situation in Sunseri's hands instead of kicking a field goal.
Sunseri dropped back to pass, waited too long and threw incomplete to Mike Shanahan through the back of the end zone. The hesitation caused the clock to expire.
“We didn't do a great job, myself included,” Chryst said. “I thought we had time to get two plays, had a chance to communicate that. Tino thought he could get something on that play, and obviously, he didn't do it.
“I thought we wasted some time the play before, before we snapped it. Obviously, we weren't prepared for that situation as we should have been. That one's on me.”
Pitt played from behind from the outset.
On Cincinnati's first offensive snap, running back George Winn ran 58 yards, untouched, through the middle of the Pitt defense for a touchdown.
The lead almost immediately grew to 14-0 when Sunseri was strip-sacked by defensive Walter Stewart and defensive tackle Cameron Beard recovered on the Pitt 38. Four plays later, Cincinnati scored on a 15-yard swing pass to Abernathy.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.