Pitt falls to Utah in overtime
SALT LAKE CITY —
No. 15-ranked Pitt figured to learn a lot about itself Thursday night at Utah.
How would new quarterback Tino Sunseri respond in a sold-out stadium where Utah hasn't lost in nearly three years?
How would three new offensive linemen fare in the face of relentless Utes' pressure?
Is this the season the Big East-favored Panthers would finally break through under sixth-year coach Dave Wannstedt?
There is some work to do — and a reason to be hopeful.
Facing one of its most daunting opening games in years, Pitt made a spirited fourth-quarter rally before falling to Utah, 27-24, in overtime in front of a packed Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"This is a big humbler," junior wide receiver Jon Baldwin said. "We wanted to go undefeated and we lost the first game. We've got 11 more regular-season games to go. We've just got to keep working hard and get back on track."
Joe Phillips kicked a 21-yard field goal in the first overtime as Utah won its 18th consecutive home game and improved to 8-0 against Big East teams.
"I think everybody got their money's worth," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We made one more play than a good Pittsburgh team."
Pitt (0-1) had erased a 24-13 deficit with less than eight minutes to play, forcing overtime on kicker Dan Hutchins' 30-yard field as time expired.
But Tino Sunseri underthrew Mike Shanahan and was intercepted by true freshman safety Brian Blechen on the first play of the first overtime. Utah (1-0), starting at the Pitt 25 as per NCAA overtime rules, drove to the Pitt 4, where Phillips ended Pitt's comeback hopes.
"Shanahan was open," Sunseri said. "I missed it inside. It was my fault. I take the blame. Everyone put us in position to win and I've just got to finish."
Pitt forced three turnovers and blocked a punt, but the Panthers committed 12 penalties for 75 yards and settled for two field goals after having first-and-goal in the second half.
"We did things tonight — just from a penalty standpoint — that give you no chance to win," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "It's just very disappointing. We will get better, but we've got a lot of work to do. We've got to grow up in a hurry."
Sunseri finished 16 of 28 for 184 yards and one touchdown and interception. Dion Lewis rushed for 75 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries.
"It was tough to run today," Lewis said. "They had a lot of guys in the box. We just have to find a way to get through it."
Pitt's other All-America candidate, Baldwin. caught four passes for 71 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown with 7:11 to play that got Pitt back into the game.
Utah sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn completed 21 of 36 pass attempts for 283 yards and three touchdowns. DeVonte Christopher caught eight passes for 155 yards and one 61-yarder.
Trailing 24-13, Pitt got back to within three points with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Baldwin and their ensuing two-point conversion to make it 24-21 with 7:11 to play.
Pitt's defense held — despite a controversial pass interference penalty call on Panther defensive back Ricky Gary on third-and-10 — and got the ball back at midfield after Utah punter Sean Sellwood's 25-yard punt with 2:39 to play.
A 20-yard catch by Shanahan from Sunseri moved Pitt to the Utah 14 with 40 seconds to play. After a pair of incompletions and a 1-yard run by Lewis, Hutchins overcame some mind tricks by Whittingham to kick his third field goal of the game to force overtime.
Whittingham called two timeouts just as Hutchins kicked — the first one Hutchins made, the second one he missed wide left — before the second-team all-Big East kicker booted a clean 30-yarder for make it 24-all.
Pitt trailed for most of the game. Down 17-13 with eight minutes to play, the Panthers allowed a 61-yard touchdown pass from Wynn to Christopher, when a rare Panther blitz didn't work.
The touchdown, which sent a sea of 45,730 red Utes fans into a frenzy, came four plays after Pitt had to settle for a 28-yard field goal with 7:57 to play after a first-and-goal.
Utah took a 14-7 lead with a pair of touchdowns in a 58-second span in the first half.
With Pitt ahead 7-0, Wynn connected with wide receiver Jereme Brooks for touchdown passes of 19 and 3 yards to give the Utes a 14-7 lead.
After a scoreless first quarter — Panther kicker Dan Hutchins missed a 42-yard field goal attempt six minutes into the game — Pitt took a 7-0 lead on Lewis' 3-yard touchdown run with 12:00 to play in the second quarter. Shaky Smithson's muffed punt return and Buddy Jackson's recovery at the Utah 28 set up the touchdown.
Utah took the ensuing and marched 80 yards on 11 plays, capped by Wynn's 19-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Brooks with 6:37 to play in the first half.
Jason Douglas muffed Utah's kickoff — the ball went through his arms and bounced back to the 35, where kicker Nick Mason recovered.
Two plays later, Wynn hit a wide-open Brooks for a 3-yard score to give Utah a 14-7 lead with 5:39 to play in the first half.
Utah had a chance to build its lead late in the first half, moving to a first-and-goal at the Panthers 9. But safety Jarred Holley intercepted Wynn's pass in the end zone with 1:37 to play.