Pitt saw several recurring themes in a 26-14 loss to Utah on Homecoming. Lack of offense, turnovers, bad offensive line play all contributed to Pitt's demise on Saturday.
Pitt led Utah 14-13 at the half, but jumped out to a 14-3 thanks to 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 was lethargic for the first half, and for the rest of the game. Ray Graham—the nation's second leading rusher—has been held to 30 yards on just seven carries in the first half. He gained 21 of those yards on one play on Pitt's final drive of the first half. Tino Sunseri was 4-of-10 for 38 yards in the half. He 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. It marked the second week in a row he had been outplayed by a younger starter. Jon Hays completed 14-of-23 passes for 127 yards—nothing to set the world on fire—but he did throw for a touchdown, with no turnover. Pitt certainly would have taken those kinds of numbers from its quarterback.
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. Thanks to a Matt Yoklic 27-yard punt, Utah took over in Pitt territory for the second time of the game. On the first play of that drive, quarterback Hays found Luke Matthews for a 33-yard touchdown pass, bringing the Utes to within one.
Utah marched the opening drive of the second half inside the 20, thanks in large part to a big 37-yard from running back John White—the longest offensive play of the day for either team. Aaron Donald came up with his second sack of the day for Pitt, taking the Utes outside the red zone, and more importantly holding them to another field goal. Despite that, Utah regained the lead at 16-14.
Pitt stuck with Anderson for all three third quarter series. The only bright spot was an 11-yard scramble on the first play of the third quarter. The Pitt offense only netted 25 yards on 12 plays in the third quarter.
After Petersen added a third field goal on the day—a career-long 45-yarder with just under eight minutes left in the game—Pitt took over, with what looked like a last chance at getting back in the game. Sunseri was sacked—the seventh Utah sack of the game—and fumbled on the play. Utah took over, for what looked like a game-clinching drive. Instead, they couldn't convert on third down. Not only that, but offensive lineman John Cullen was flagged for a personal foul. That took the Utes out of field goal range, forcing them to punt.
Utah got the snap off, but it slipped out of the hands of punter Nick Marsh. Marsh fell on the ball, and Pitt took over on the Utah 48 with 5:13 left.
Unfortunately, Pitt could only muster 13 yards. They failed to convert a 4th-and-3 at the Utah 35, giving the ball back to the Utes with 2:13 left in the game. Pitt held the Utes one last time, getting the ball back after forcing a three-and-out. Unfortunately, it all ended with an interception by Anderson returned 21 yards by Utah defensive lineman Derrick Shelby.
John White ran for 171 yards on 36 carries—more like Ray Graham numbers. Graham, was inexplicably held to 12 carries and 46 yards, with an anemic passing game. The Panthers completed just nine passes on 29 attempts with two interceptions.
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 allowed seven sacks on Saturday. Entering the game, Utah produced nine sacks in five games all season. Pitt's offensive line has allowed 31 sacks for the season.
Stay tuned for more from Heinz Field following the game.