Panthers wilt in national spotlight
This was hardly the way to take a step toward national prominence for the Pitt football program.
Brought down by an anemic offense, the Panthers lost to No. 19 Miami, 31-3, on Thursday night for its worst loss at Heinz Field in nearly nine years.
In front of a national television audience, Pitt (1-2) needed nearly 24 minutes before gaining its initial first down, and lost to Miami for the 15th time in the past 16 meetings between the former Big East rivals.
"Right now, we are not in sync," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "When you allow five sacks and nine tackles for loss and three turnovers, you are not going to beat anybody."
By the time it was over, Tino Sunseri was on the sideline and most of the 58,115 fans who had this game circled on their calendars had fled for the parking lots.
Miami (2-1) scored on the game's opening possession and led the rest of the way to give the ACC a much-needed nonconference victory over a BCS school. The Big East, meanwhile, dropped to 1-7 this season against BCS automatic qualifiers.
Pitt, hoping to use the high-profile matchup to build its national profile and gain a signature victory, went three-and-out on its first five possessions.
"We are one good play on offense right now and two bad plays," Wannstedt said. "That's what we are. We are not consistent doing anything. We are very inconsistent on offense, and we've probably been that way pretty much all year."
Pitt, the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the Big East, finds itself with a losing record and many questions as its readies to play host to Florida International on Oct. 2.
"Right now, we are a one-win football team," Wannstedt said.
Midway through the second quarter, Pitt had no first downs and 33 total yards. The Panthers didn't muster their initial first down until 6:00 remained in the first half and didn't score until Dan Hutchins' 27-yard field goal with 14:35 to play made it 17-3.
It was Pitt's most lopsided loss at Heinz Field since a 42-10 loss to Syracuse on Oct. 13, 2001. It marked the first time in 60 games at Heinz Field that Pitt scored fewer than 10 points.
"We've got to look at the offensive line and see if we need to juggle some guys there," Wannstedt said.
The Panthers suffered another loss when middle linebacker Dan Mason sustained a dislocated right knee early in the third quarter. Mason was taken off the field on a cart, surrounded by many of his teammates.
Sunseri completed 8 of 15 passes for 61 yards before giving way to Pat Bostick when Miami took a 24-3 lead with 10:53 to play. Wannstedt said Sunseri was suffering from blurred vision after being hit in the head and the call to remove him was a "medical decision."
Ray Graham had his second consecutive 100-yard game, gaining 100 yards on 14 carries. Dion Lewis gained 41 yards on 12 carries.
Jacory Harris completed 21 of 32 passes for 248 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for Miami, which rebounded from its Sept. 11 loss at Ohio State.
"I think we played our heart out as a defensive line," defensive end Jabaal Sheard said. "Everybody did what they could. We forced some bad passes. I think we played all right as a defense, but we gave up 31 points. I don't care how they got it. We gave it up."
Pitt was poised to get the ball back with 12:30 to play, but Cam Saddler muffed a Miami punt after calling for a fair catch and the Hurricanes recovered at the Pitt 43. Three plays later, Harris found Travis Benjamin for a 10-yard touchdown pass and a 24-3 Miami lead with 10:53 to play.
Pitt was outgained, 204-76, in the opening two quarters but kept the game close thanks to a pair of Harris interceptions in the first half. Harris has been intercepted 23 times since the start of last year.
Miami needed fewer than three minutes to take a 7-0 lead, marching 80 yards on 10 plays capped by Damien Berry's 1-yard touchdown with 11:35 to play in the first quarter. Berry carried 21 times for 87 yards.
Miami threatened on its next possession, but safety Dom DeCicco intercepted a Harris pass in the end zone.
Down 10-0, Pitt's best scoring chance of the first half came late in the second quarter when the Panthers put together three first downs and reached the Miami 36. But the drive stalled, and Hutchins missed a 52-yard field goal attempt wide left with 11 seconds to play before halftime.