Pitt Clings To 14-13 Halftime Lead

Panthers get a pair of touchdowns off special teams, but have an ineffective offense so far.

Pitt leads Utah 14-13 at the half, but the offense has yet to get in a rhythm.

Pitt scored two touchdowns on a pair of big special teams plays. After Utah got on the board first with a 23-yard field goal from Coleman Petersen, Buddy Jackson returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to give Pitt a 7-3 lead. It was Pitt's first kickoff return for a touchdown since Lowell Robinson returned the opening kickoff in a 52-7 rout of Central Florida on October 13, 2006.

Additionally, Utah's kick-coverage units—something that Todd Graham stressed earlier in the week as a a strength of theirs—was allowing an average of just 15.4 yards per kickoff return entering this game.

Pitt then went deeper in the record books on its next big special teams play. Andrew Taglianetti came up the middle and blocked Nick Marsh's punt attempt. Antwuan Reed scooped up the loose ball and returned it 10 yards for a touchdown. The blocked punt for a touchdown was Pitt's first since September 28, 1991 when former receiver Billy Davis blocked a punt at Minnesota and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown.

Despite leading at halftime, the offense has been lethargic for an entire half. Ray Graham—the nation's second leading rusher—has been held to 30 yards on just seven carries. He gained 21 of those yards on one play on Pitt's final drive of the first half. Tino Sunseri is 4-of-10 for 38 yards, no interceptions and he has been sacked three times. Graham is the leading receiver with three catches for 10 yards. Sunseri was replaced on the final series of the first half by Trey Anderson, who guided the Panthers into Utah territory before punting to end the half.

Sunseri has been outplayed by a younger starter for a second week in a row—Jon Hays—who has completed 8-of-11 passes for 67 yards. Hays is making just his second career start.

Pitt's defense has forced three sacks, and has come up big on third down for a second week in a row. Utah has gotten inside the 20 twice, yet got just six points out of those trips. Utah has converted just 3-of-8 third down attempts today. Combined with the defensive effort on third down last week, Pitt opponents are 6-of-23 on third down in the last two games.

The Utes added another field goal in the second quarter, a 34-yarder from Petersen, to make it a 14-6 game.

Special teams weren't done yet in the first half. On the first play of a Matt Yoklic 27-yard punt, Utah took over in Pitt territory for the second time of the game. On the first play, Jon Hays found Luke Matthews for a 33-yard touchdown pass, bringing the Utes to within one.

From a personnel standpoint, Todd Thomas and Lucas Nix have been held out of action for a second week in a row. Redshirt freshman Matt Rotheram got the start at right tackle, with Jordan Gibbs moving back over to his natural side of left tackle—in place of sophomore Juantez Hollins. Cory King and Ryan Schlieper remain the starters at left guard and right guard, respectively. The offensive line has allowed three sacks in the first half, giving them a total of 30 sacks allowed this season.

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