The Panthers went into the game against the conference's only unbeaten (in league play) team with just one conference loss of their own. The loss took away Pitt's chance to control its own fate.
Turnovers and mental mistakes killed the Panthers, not the last-ditch 50-yard field goal attempt to tie the game by Kevin Harper that missed. Harper kicked three field goals in the game, including a 52-yarder which was the longest ever by a collegian in Heinz Field.
"My heart goes out to those guys in the locker room because they laid it on the line," said coach Todd Graham. "I hated for it to come down to a field goal and it shouldn't have."
A fumble by quarterback Tino Sunseri, who passed for 218 yards and was the leading rusher with 64 yards on 16 carries, turned the tide in the game.
"I was trying to make too much out of a 2-yard gain," he said. "I was just trying to do too much on that play. That's when the momentum and the tide really started to turn on us."
The fumble gave Cincinnati a short field.
"You can't have turnovers at your own 30, especially against an offense like Cincinnati's where they're high-powered and they can score a lot of points," Sunseri said.
In truth, when you are playing with a patchwork offensive line due to injury and without your star running back, Ray Graham, who is out for the year with a knee injury after ranking second in the nation in rushing, you must play without mistakes and Pitt did not do that.
"We made too many mental errors on offense," Graham said.
--Pittsburgh has not been able to win consecutive games since opening the year 2-0.
--Pittsburgh extended its streak of consecutive games with at least one sack to 21, sacking QB Zach Collaros twice.
--RB Zach Brown had nine receptions against UConn after replacing the injured Ray Graham and followed that up with six receptions in the Cincinnati game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Devon Street. Street is emerging as the go-to receiver in the Pitt offense. A sophomore, he has had games of 5, 6, 7 and 8 receptions this year. The eight, a career high, came against Cincinnati and were good for 118 yards. Earlier in the season he had 138 yards in receptions at Iowa. With Pitt's running game crippled by injury, the Panthers will likely do even more throwing as the year wears on and Street will be a big part of that.
LOOKING GOOD: Pitt actually outgained Cincinnati in the game, more a function of the defense than anything else. "Defensively, I thought we played well enough to win the game," Coach Todd Graham said. The Panthers held Cincinnati's high-powered offense to 366 yards, recording a couple of sacks on QB Zach Collaros. Even though his last-gasp attempt a 50-yard field goal was off, PK Kevin Harper made three field goals, including one from 52 yards.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Tino Sunseri had problems with turnovers and that was critical against Cincinnati. "[My fumble] is when the momentum and the tide really started to turn on us," Sunseri said. Sunseri also threw an interception. With a backup running back and an makeshift offensive line, Pitt's running game is not as imposing at was at the start of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a crazy league and it ain't over yet." -- Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham on the Big East race after losing to Cincinnati to fall to 4-5, 2-2 in the conference.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--PK Kevin Harper kicked three field goals, including a career-high 52-yarder former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed (2010) for the longest in Heinz Field history. It was 2 yards off the Pitt record set by David Merrick in 1994 at Pitt Stadium.
--WR Devin Street finished with a career-high eight receptions against Cincinnati. The 118 receiving yards marked his second career 100-yard game.
--QB Tino Sunseri rushed for a career-high 64 yards on 16 carries. His previous career-high was 53 yards against Kentucky last season in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
--Star RB Ray Graham, out for the year with a knee injury, led the team onto the field while hobbled on crutches. RB Zach Brown made his first start in Graham's place and gained 54 yards in 11 carries.
--WR Mike Shanahan replaced Cam Saddler, who is out for the season with a fractured sternum, as the No. 1 punt returner.
--Freshman RB Isaac Bennett broke his redshirt by making his first appearance in a game.