West Virginia steamrolls Pitt in Backyard Brawl
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt stood on the sideline looking like a beaten prizefighter as time expired Friday at the 103rd Backyard Brawl.
As a largely disappointed crowd of 60,562 lumbered out of Heinz Field, Wannstedt labored toward the locker room after watching his uninspired Panthers get out-punched in a 35-10 defeat.
"I really thought we would play better," a somber Wannstedt said. "We didn't."
The Panthers, their chances of claiming the Big East title now an uphill climb, were physically dominated by West Virginia (8-3, 4-2). But Pitt (6-5, 4-2) beat itself up, too, by committing four turnovers.
"Everybody understood, approached and prepared, I thought, as well as we could have prepared," said Wannstedt, who fell to 2-4 in this rivalry. "Obviously, it's disappointing. We just didn't make enough plays."
Pitt dropped into a tie with West Virginia atop the conference, but Connecticut (6-4, 3-2) holds the tiebreaker after beating both. The Huskies close vs. Cincinnati today and at South Florida next week; a pair of wins would earn the Huskies the Big East title and an automatic BCS bowl berth.
The Mountaineers, who won their third straight, overwhelmed Pitt in the second half after leading, 14-7, at halftime. West Virginia, which had only two second-half touchdowns in conference play this season, tallied three on its first four drives of the half.
West Virginia totaled seven plays on three scoring drives to take a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter. Then, the Mountaineers put together two time-consuming scoring drives — including an 11-play, 76-yard march capped by Ryan Clarke's 2-yard run with 7:45 left for the final points.
"I was uneasy in the first half because I didn't see that zip we had the last couple of weeks," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. "But we rallied and kept them out of the end zone."
In a season in which the Panthers have had no clear identity, their opening possession was typically puzzling. The Panthers shifted gears from a week ago, when they pounded Dion Lewis between the tackles against South Florida to establish a physical presence. This time, they tried out-finessing the Mountaineers, throwing the ball exclusively.
The West Virginia secondary left the door open a couple of times for Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri. Then, they slammed it shut: Cornerback Brandon Hogan intercepted a wobbly pass and returned it 53 yards to the Pitt 2.
The Mountaineers cashed in on the miscue to take a 7-0 lead just 2:34 into the game when Clarke powered into the end zone on West Virginia's first play from scrimmage.
"It's frustrating because we didn't do enough," said Sunseri, who was 28 of 46 for 284 yards. "If we don't turn the ball over, it's a lot different game."
Sunseri redeemed himself on the Panthers' next possession. He scrambled for 21 yards on third-and-8 to keep alive an eight-play, 59-yard scoring drive. It ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Devin Street with 2:33 left in the quarter to tie the score at 7.
The Panthers twice positioned themselves to score in the second quarter but couldn't finish either drive because of fumbles by Lewis and fellow running back Ray Graham. West Virginia tailback Noel Devine pulled in a swing pass from Geno Smith, then raced 48 yards down the right sideline before safety Jarred Holley tripped him up at the Pitt 2. Smith found Will Johnson for a 2-yard score to make it 14-7 with 4:33 left in the half.
The hole got deeper when West Virginia stretched its lead to 21-7 only 97 seconds into the second half. Smith targeted oft-maligned Pitt cornerback Antwuan Reed, catching him in man-to-man coverage against receiver Tavon Austin. Reed, flagged for four pass interference penalties at South Florida, didn't lay a glove on Austin, who gathered in Smith's floater for a 71-yard touchdown.
"I don't know if our confidence was shaken a little bit or what," Wannstedt said. "But we missed some tackles in the second half that we made in the first half."
Receiver Jon Baldwin ignited a spark for Pitt with a 48-yard reception to the West Virginia 25 on the ensuing possession. But Sunseri misfired on three passes, forcing Pitt to settle for a 42-yard field goal by Dan Hutchins with 6:13 left in the third quarter.
The Mountaineers went up, 28-10, when Smith engineered a 10-play, 67-yard touchdown drive. He threw a 12-yard pass to Austin with 1:29 left in the quarter for a 28-10 lead, and the Panthers never recovered.
"Things just started to slip away slowly," Graham said. "All we can do right now is move on."
Pitt vs. WVU The Backyard Brawl 1 1⁄26/10
West Virginia defeats Pitt, 35-10, in the 103rd Backyard Brawl Friday November 26, 2010 at Heinz Field.