Following up on its 35-17 win over Virginia Tech last week, Pitt crushed Gardner-Webb 55-10 to even its record at 2-2 on the season.
Tino Sunseri came through with another efficient performance, completing 18-of-24 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns. He was only sacked once, and did not throw any picks. Ray Graham, Rushel Shell and Isaac Bennett all rushed for touchdowns, including two from Bennett. Mike Shanahan had a career day with five catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Devin Street finished with five catches for 95 yards and a score and Cameron Saddler caught five passes for 81 yards. Graham finished just under the 100-yard mark for a second week in a row, rushing for 95 yards and just eight carries.
“We’re pleased to get a victory," head coach Paul Chryst said afterwards. "We did some things we can build on and things we can get better at. The best part of this is we took care of business and were able to get lots of players in.”
Defensively, the Pitt defense forced three turnovers, capitalizing with 14 points off those three turnovers. Jason Hendricks came up with his third interception of the season, Devin Cook forced his second fumble in as many games and Joe Trebitz forced a fumble on a kickoff.
The two teams traded punts on their respective first series, but it was Gardner-Webb getting at least a first down on its first series, and crossing the 50 on its next series,you could say they were off to the better start.
The Running' Bulldogs converted two more first downs on its next series, getting all the way to the Pitt 23. After an completion on third down, kicker Trever Austin came out for a 40-yard attempt. His field goal try went wide right, and the game remained scoreless with 3:35 remaining in the first quarter.
While it looked like a slow start for Pitt to this point, Ray Graham quickly changed that on the first play,of Pitt's next series. He broke through the middle, then away from the pack, untouched, for a 78-yard touchdown run. It was the second-longest run of his career (79-yard TD run vs. Florida International Sept. 27, 2010).
"Every week is a new week," Graham said. "There is no doubt that the players are gaining some confidence. Maybe it’s their confidence that is coming out. I think it’s a process for this team and it’s a good thing.”
After a 69-yard kick return from J.J. Hubbard, Gardner-Webb took over in Pitt territory at the Panther 32. The Pitt defense tightened up, holding the Running' Bulldogs to a field goal. After missing the earlier 40-yarder, Austin converted a 41-yarder, making it a 7-3 Pitt lead.
There was more special teams excitement as Lafayette Pitts returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the Gardner-Webb. Instead of continuing up the sideline, Pitts felt he saw something inside. Unfortunately, he ran into teammate Cameron Saddler. Pitt started its next drive on the Gardner-Webb 33. The quarter ended with Pitt up 7-3. Pitts is averaging 36.8 yards on five kickoff returns this season.
Pitt was held to a field goal, a 41-yarder from Kevin Harper, with 14:32 left in the first half.
Pitt wasn't done making plays on special teams. Joe Trebitz removed a fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Gardner-Webb 33. The offense took its time, marching 33 yards on seven plays. Rushel Shell took it in from a yard out for his first career touchdown. His score was set up Mickey on a 20-yard completion from Tino Sunseri to Cameron Saddler, setting the ball at the 1.
The Pitt defense tightened up again, as Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks teamed up for a nice defenisve play. on a third down play. Holley made a break on the intended receiver to break up the pass into the hands of a diving Hendricks. Initially, it looked like Hendricks had the interception, but the review indicated the ball hit the ground. Holley was still credited with the PBU.
Instead, Gardner-Webb punted 17 yards to their own 34 after the review--the same spot Pitt would have taken over at if the interception was good.
When the offense took over, Sunseri hit Devin Street for a 34-yard touchdown pass. Pitt went up 24-3 with 8:41 left in the first half.
Gardner-Webb was forced to punt on its next series, and once again Pitt took advantage of the field position. After only a 20-yard punt, Pitt took over at the Gardner-Webb 29--the fourth drive they started inside the Gardner-Webb 35 (32, 35, 34, 30).
Pitt settled for a field goal after a miscommunication on the third down passing play. Harper's 43-yarder went wide right, keeping Pitt's lead at 24-3 with 5:44 left.
Gardner-Webb wouldn't end the half without some kind of spark. Dylan Taylor forced a fumble on Ray Graham, which was recovered by Kamar Morrison and returned 65 yards for a touchdown.
Starting the second half, Pitt chewed up some clock and moved the ball efficiently on a 9-play, 75-yard drive that took up nearly the first five minutes of the second half. It was capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Shanahan. Pitt led 34-10. On the drive, Sunseri was a perfect 4-4 for 62 yards and the touchdown. Graham carried the ball 4 times for 13 yards.
Gardner-Webb put together its most impressive drive of the day--getting to the Pitt 32--after marching 42 yards on five plays. Jason Hendricks came up with an interception to end the drive. Pitt quickly answered with a 77-yard touchdown pass to Shanahan, his second of the game. Pitt ended the third quarter up 41-10.
“I think it was just a product of everybody playing hard," Shanahan said. "We were able to set up the run early in the game and that opened some things out in the secondary and down the field for me. I think it was just a great overall team effort.”
After a Gardner-Webb fumble at its own 5, Pitt took over. Isaac Bennett ran it in from three yards out, making it a 48-10 lead with 14:32 left in the game.
Paul Chryst put his second-teamers in after that. Trey Anderson came in and led the second group to a touchdown; an 11-yard run by Bennett. Pitt led 55-10.
"Every week is a new week," Chryst said. "There is no doubt that the players are gaining some confidence. Maybe it’s their confidence that is coming out. I think it’s a process for this team and it’s a good thing.”