West Virginia entered the game allowing more than 20 points in a game just twice this season. Pitt aimed to get over that 20-point barrier, but thanks to four Pitt turnovers, the West Virginia defense had little to worry about in a 35-10 win.
Tino Sunseri attempted 46 passes, and completed 28 of them for 284 yards, a touchdown and and interception. Geno Smith only needed nine completions in 12 attempts to lead his team to the win. Smith threw for 212 yards and three touchdown passes. Though they didn't need much support from the run game, West Virginia rushed for 148 yards on 39 carries, led by Shawne Alston with 71 yards on 16 carries. Sunseri also led Pitt in rushing with 38 yards on five carries, while it was not a good day for either Dion Lewis (11 carries, 34 yards) or Ray Graham (10 carries, 21 yards).
The backbreaker was two of Smith's touchdown passes in the second half--both to Tavon Austin--first on a 71-yarder, then a 12-yarder.
"Obviously, it's disappointing," Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We just didn't make enough plays. We didn't make enough plays on defense. We gave up way too many plays on offense from a turnover standpoint."
Four turnovers, to be exact. West Virginia turned three of those Pitt turnovers into touchdowns.
Pitt came out throwing on their opening drive. Last week against South Florida, they ran for the first six plays of the game, en route to a field goal. This week, they knew they wanted to establish the passing game against West Virginia's defense.
Sunseri completed his first two passes--a seven-yarder to Mike Cruz and another seven-yarder to Jon Baldwin. The next two plays were incompletions, but offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, Jr., knew incompletion or completion, he had to keep giving Sunseri as many throws as possible to get him in a rhythm early. On the fifth play of the game, Sunseri's pass was intercepted by Brandon Hogan, and returned all the way to the Pitt 2. Ryan Clarke took it in for a touchdown on the next play, giving the Mountaineers a 7-0 lead, just 1:34 into the game.
Despite the interception, Pitt came back throwing when the offense took the field again. Sunseri completed his first three passes of the second drive, but ended the drive with two incompletions forcing Pitt to punt. Instead of turning the ball over to the Mountaineers, setting them up with good field position, this Pitt downed the punt at the West Virginia 16.
The Pitt defense stood tall being able to defend with better field position. Dom DeDicco stopped Noel Devine for a loss of three in the backfield, setting up a 3rd-and-7 situation at the West Virginia 19. Smith went deep for Brad Starks, who was in one-on-one coverage with Antwuan Reed. West Virginia saw the film from last week's game. Though Reed made contact with Starks, he simply broke up the pass. He had a chance for the interception, but couldn't hold on. The most important thing was that Pitt held West Virginia to a three-and-out.
Any momentum the Panthers lost on that earlier interception, they gained back on their first touchdown drive of the game. They answered that three-and-out with an eight-play, 51-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard pass from Sunseri to Devin Street. Sunseri had time to throw, and had his timing together on the second drive. He stood tall in the pocket, completing a 13-yard pass to Devin Street over the middle. On a 3rd-and-8, he took off out of the pocket, evading two rushers, and turned it into a 18-yard run.
Pitt added to its momentum with more stellar play from the defense. After another three-and-out, the Mountaineers left the first quarter with seven total plays for seven total yards.
Pitt was able to move the ball again, while still dominating the time of possession battle as the second quarter got underway. After forcing the Mountaineers to punt on their first drive of the quarter, Pitt drove to its own 41 yard-line, on eight plays from their own 10. The key play was a 22-yard scamper up the middle from Sunseri, as Pitt was facing a 3rd-and-16 on its own 15. Graham picked up runs of four and five on the next two plays. Looking to keep eating up clock, and maybe get a late score to take a lead into halftime, that all fizzled as Graham fumbled on the next play, setting up the Mountaineers with the ball at the Pitt 46. Graham also bobbled a kickoff return earlier in the game. Afterwards, Graham held himself accountable.
"We're supposed to hold on to the ball," Graham said, referring to protecting the ball. "It's what we preach every day in practice; what we preach in practice. The mistakes we made, (West Virginia) kept capitalizing on."
Smith was sacked by Chas Alecxih on the first play of the drive, as the defense looked to be feeding off the momentum from their last two stops. Then, Smith hit Noel Devine--who touched the ball five times for the entire game--who came up with the biggest play of the game to this point. He took the ball all the way to the Pitt 2, a gain of 48 yards. West Virginia finished with 75 yards the entire first half. Smith found a wide-open Will Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown pass, putting the Mountaineers up 14-7 with just under five minutes left in the first half.
Pitt tried to answer, only there wasn't a sense of urgency. Sunseri completed 5-of-6 passes to get the Panthers into West Virginia 47. Sunseri completed a pass to Mike Shanahan for a gain of 7, which got Pitt into West Virginia territory. Facing a 4th-and-7, and with 43 seconds left, the clock trickled all the way down to six seconds left in the half, where West Virginia called timeout. Sunseri rushed for 10 yards to get out of bounds, but not in time as the first half ran out. Pitt had the ball for over 22 minutes in the first half, and the defense held West Virginia to just 75 total yards. Credit Pitt's three first-half turnovers for the 14-7 lead.
West Virginia started the second half with the ball, scoring on the opening drive. They also did it without the help of any Pitt turnovers. They did in in just three plays, going 74 yards. They had been trying to get a big passing play all day, and they finally got one as Smith went deep for Austin, who beat corner Antwuan Reed on the play, for a 71-yard touchdown pass.
"I don't know if our confidence was shaken a little bit or what," Wannstedtsaid. "But, we missed some tackles in the second half that we made in the first half."
Pitt answered with a field goal, going 48 yards on five plays, in a drive that lasted over 1:02. The Mountaineers put the game away as Smith found Austin again, this time in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown pass. Austin finished the day with just two catches for 83 yards, both for second-half touchdowns that put the game out of reach.
Pitt answered, Sunseri went deep for Baldwin, who drew pass interference, and gave the Panthers an extra play with no time on the clock at the end of the third quarter. Sunseri completed a seven-yard shovel pass to Dion Lewis, as the Panthers ended the third quarter, still down 28-10.
Though the defense was put in tough spots in the first half--mainly twice in their own territory as a result of turnovers by their offense--they gave up the big pass plays in the second half. While the first half scores were the fault of the offense putting them in a bad spot, the defense gave up too many big plays in the second half. Despite all this, no blame was being placed anywhere.
"We win as a team, lose as a team," Alecxih said. "We didn't make enough plays, starting with me. I have to play better next game. I plan to do that."
Alecxih was one of the few bright spots on defense, finishing tied for the team-lead with eight tackles. He also had Pitt's two sacks on the day, and two tackles for losses. The Panthers got as far as the 10, before a bad center exchange between Sunseri and center Alex Karabin gave the ball back to the Mountaineers. West Virginia took over, then drove 76 yards on 11 plays, capped by a second 2-yard run by Clarke, giving the Mountaineers their 35-10 score.
"Well, the ball was too high, probably eleven feet in the air," Sunseri said of the bad snap. "I should have just fell on it. I tried to pick it up and make a play. Instead of being fundamental football--you see a fumble, you just fall on it--I should have just fallen on it. I should be able to make that play, and keep our offense on the field."