Sluggish Pitt drops another to UConn
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Blame it on a Notre Dame hangover.
Blame it on a defense that was out of position and a step late on many plays.
Blame it on an offensive line that couldn't hold back a fierce pass rush and a quarterback who couldn't find a consistent connection with his receivers.
Whatever the reason, Pitt (4-6, 1-4) fell into a tie for last place in the Big East on Friday night after a 24-17 loss to Connecticut at Rentschler Field.
The Panthers, who have two conference games remaining, haven't finished in last place since 1998.
Connecticut (4-6, 1-4), which broke a four-game losing streak, shares the Big East basement with Pitt and South Florida (3-6, 1-4).
Pitt's defense shut out the Huskies in the second half, but a 24-0 halftime deficit was too much to overcome.
“We came out too sluggish,” said running back Ray Graham, who was held to 41 yards on 15 carries, his second-lowest output this season. “We just were too flat. Definitely give credit to them, but we stopped ourselves.”
Coach Paul Chryst said he didn't sense lingering effects from the tough loss to Notre Dame last Saturday.
“UConn outexecuted us,” he said.
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri had trouble developing a rapport with his receivers and completed 19 of 34 for 302 yards, but he helped rally his team. He also stretched his streak of not throwing an interception to seven games and 206 attempts, but he was sacked three times.
Pitt didn't score until the fourth quarter. Sunseri hit tight end Drew Carswell on an 11-yard score and receiver Mike Shanahan from 18 yards out with 2:46 left. Kevin Harper kicked a 42-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Carswell was playing for starter Hubie Graham, who was hurt on Pitt's first play of the game.
After Shanahan's touchdown, Pitt didn't get the ball back. On third-and-7 from the UConn 38, Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer shook off blitzing linebacker Shane Gordon at his feet and completed a 17-yard pass to receiver Shakim Phillips to secure the victory.
“It falls into making plays,” Chryst said. “Shane's there. (Cornerback K'Waun Williams) slips, and they made a play. You make plays, and that helps you win the game. That was big.”
Connecticut didn't score after halftime, however, and now has been outscored, 76-3, in the second half of five Big East games.
The Panthers' misery started early when Connecticut, which entered the game with the 117th-ranked offense, drove 75 yards on 11 plays on the first series. Whitmer, who was sacked once after getting dumped 26 times in the previous nine games, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Griffin for the first of Connecticut's three touchdowns.
The Huskies scored just three touchdowns during their four-game losing streak.
Connecticut also scored on a 29-yard field goal by Chad Christen, an 80-yard punt return by Nick Williams and a 2-yard run by Lyle McCombs.
“I don't think in the first half we tackled extremely well,” Chryst said. “Some things with our eyes and guys not being in the right spot. They made more plays than we did.”
The return was the second for a touchdown by Williams this season and the second allowed by Pitt. Williams also returned a kickoff for a touchdown here two years ago when the Huskies rallied for a 30-28 victory over Pitt.
McCombs ran 29 times for 120 yards, only his second 100-yard effort of the season. Whitmer completed 19 of 25 passes for 213 yards, including six for 84 to Griffin.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.