Once again, Pitt does the unthinkable.
All week, the players talked about winning one for the seniors. Saturday, Pitt did just that. It was a combination of those seniors stepping up to make plays, with some key underclassmen setting them up, as Pitt toppled Rutgers 24-6.
"We did some good things, and it was fun to be around," head coach Paul Chryst said afterwards. "For awhile, we were struggling and we weren't making plays. We got the running game going. Defensively, we played strong on third down.
It wasn't the prettiest game early on. Both teams combined for 13 punts in the first half, and there were no points scored in the first quarter.
In the second half, the Pitt offense opened up for three scores. The first was a 16-yard pass from Tino Sunseri to Mike Shanahan--two of the team's seniors. It capped an 80-yard drive, as Pitt took a 7-0 lead.
"I just did a slant-and-go, and the corner bit," Shanahan said. "Tino gave me a great pass."
On the previous series, Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova took a hard hit from defensive lineman Shayne Hale. He returned after sitting out two series, but after leaving the game, the Pitt offense answered.
The Panthers had a chance to make it a 14-0 lead, but they fumbled the ball at the Rutgers 1. Rutgers went three-and-out, punting back to Pitt. On the return, Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene leveled Pitt returnman Cameron Saddler. Both Greene and Saddler were penalized on the play; Greene for a personal foul (violating the two-yard rule on punt returns) and Saddler for delay of game; taking an extra step with the ball after signalling for fair catch.
"I didn't even know there was a penalty until after I got hit," Saddler said. "I didnt fair catch. I guess it was me just trying to catch my balance, and they threw the flag."
Pitt took over on the Rutgers 28, and scored three plays later. Graham scored on a 1-yard touchdown making it a 14-0 lead.
Often times when being the underdog, it's normal to be up 7-0 early. A 14-0 lead is a little more rare, but a 21-0 lead really gets in your head and makes you start thinking upset. That's what happened to this Pitt team. Especially when Ed Tinker caught his first career touchdown pass with seven seconds left in the first half, making it a 21-0 lead.
While those offensive players scores the points, Pitt obviously needed a defensive player to step up to the Rutgers offense which was averaging 140.7 yards per game on the ground. The biggest catalyst was Aaron Donald, who finished the game with seven tackles, three for losses and a sack. Donald had three tackles, two of them for losses, in the first half--numbers that most defensive linemen would be satisfied with for a game.
What's worked well for opponents in wins over Pitt this year, has been opponents' abilities to double-team Donald. Not only did Donald have a big game, but Rutgers didn't do much in the way of double-teams or anything to slow him up.
"I didn't get doubled as much; a couple times, but not as much," Donald added.
Donald did feel that Shayne Hale's play today--which included a quarterback hurry--and his play in recent weeks as a starter has made an impact.
"There's not too many tight ends that can block him, he's a big dude," Donald said. "He's getting out on that edge, and letting it all come to us. Then we're able to push it back out to him, he's making a big play too."
Rutgers got on the board in the third quarter as Nova found Brandon Coleman for an 11-yard score. I didn't come easy, as the Scarlet Knights committed two penalties, and Donald broke through the line untouched to stop Jawan Jamison for a four-yard loss. Kevin Harper added a 39-yard field goal for Pitt in the third quarter.
Harper added his second field goal of the game, a 25-yarder, with 6:01 left in the game.
Sunseri completed 21-of-39 passes for 227 yards and 2 touchdown passes. Ray Graham crossed the century mark with 113 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown. Graham also tied for the team-lead with five receptions. Mike Shanahan finished with five catches for 62 yards.
Rutgers was coming off a season-best 234 yards rushing at Cincinnati last week. They were held to a season-low 50 rushing yards today against Pitt. They only other times they were held below 100 yards this season were against Syracuse (85) and against Kent State (96).
I can't speak highly enough of my fellow senior class and the underclassmen," safety Andrew Taglianetti said. "That's what this program is; its the players. We have some really good guys coming up, too."