Things didn't go as planned, as FCS opponent marched into Heinz Field, and came away with an impressive 31-17 win over the Pitt Panthers.
Youngstown State kept a balanced attack, with quarterback Kurt Hess throwing for two scores, Andre Stubbs running for a score and catching one, and Will Shaw catching two touchdown passes. Ray Graham--expected to take a limited number of carries--took the most carries for Pitt; starting and rushing 14 times for 71 yards. Tino Sunseri was effective; completing 19-of-30 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown. Sunseri was not sacked, nor did he throw an interception.
Pitt took The Opening drive into Youngstown State territory. The big question of the week was answered as Graham took the opening carry for a one-yard gain, but it was a couple of big passing plays--a third down conversion to Mike Shanahan, and a 29-yard catch and scramble from Cameron Saddler that set Pitt up at the Penguin 17. Two plays last, Graham fumbled the all away on his third carry of the game, ending Pitt's opening series.
Three times Youngstown State converted third downs on its opening series, which was just a small sampling of how they would eventually execute on the night. The veteran offensive line did its job as Pitt's front seven could not establish any pressure. Their opening drive was capped by a 27-yard pass from quarterback Hess to Stubbs, but the big story of the drive had to be the job done by the offensive line. It was a sea of white against virtually no pressure from the Pitt defensive line--which used a total of seven players in the rotation on the opening series alone.
Isaac Bennett checked in the game on the second series. However, despite a couple of marginal runs with no room, it was the passing game stepping up in this series. Sunseri hit Devin Street for a gain of 12 and then Hubie Graham for 9. However a miscommunication resulted in a loss of 1 on the next play. Sunseri then found a wide open J.P. Holtz for 20. Bennett continued to struggle finding running room, until punching in a 4-yard touchdown run to cap an 11-play drive. On that 11-play drive, Sunseri completed all 5 of his passing attempts for 65 yards, and more impressively was 4-4 on third down to this point in the game.
Youngstown State answered with another sustained drive--Pitt giving up two big gains off screen passes to set the Penguins up inside the Pitt 10 at the 7. Despite a botched exchange on the very next snap, Hess answered with another touchdown pass--a14-yarder to Will Shaw--to give the Penguins a 14-7 lead with 10:14 left in the first half. It was another sustained drive, another drive where Youngstown State converted key third downs; basically another drive where Pitt's defense couldn't stop anything.
Pitt answered the call again, moving the ball in the air again, but also getting a big run from Graham--a 22-yarder to kickstart the drive. Sunseri got the offense to the Youngstown State 16 yard-line, but wasn't able to complete a short pass to Saddler to convert another third down. To this point, both teams had combined to start the game 11-11 on third down. The Panthers still got points as Kevin Harper kicked a 33-yard field goal, making the score 14-10 in favor of Youngstown State with 6:13 left in the first half.
Pitt was able to hold for the first time of the game on its next series, forcing the Pengins to punt. Facing a 2nd-and-short, Aaron Donald finally broke through the offensive line, forcing quarterback Hess into an early release. The defensive line clamped down on third down, tripping up Christian Bryan for a minimal gain. The Penguins were forced to punt for the first time in the game, giving Pitt the ball at its own 24 with 3:53 left in the first half.
Pitt was forced to punt on the ensuing drive after Devin Street dropped a sure catch on a third down play. That wasn't all for Street on that final Pitt series of the first half. He committed a 15-yard personal foul penalty after Shanahan caught a 6-yard pass to convert a first down. After Street's second drop of the game, Yoklic punted to the Youngstown State 18. The Penguins took the 14-10 lead into halftime.
Starting the second half, Youngstown State didn't even need three minutes to complete the opening scoring drive. Facing a 4th-and-1, the Penguins took a gutsy call and went for the halfback option pass. Running back Jamaine Cook found a wide-open Will Shaw for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Trailing 21-10 and still somewhat early in the third quarter, the Pitt offense stalled. Graham was held for no gain on a 3rd-and-short, forcing Pitt to punt, giving the ball back to the Penguins with just under 10 minutes left in the third.
Pitt forced a three-and-out on its next series, and got the ball back with about nine minutes left int the third. Pitt got some momentum--a short completion from Sunseri to Hubie Graham, followed by a 12-yard run from Bennett. This was the first drive where Bennett started to warm up. After the 12-yarder, Bennett had an 11-yarder. Things looked good for Bennett on this drive to start, but he was shut down near the end of the drive. Facing a 4th-and-1, the Penguin defense held Bennett. Pitt turned the ball over on downs. Bennett had his most significant runs of the evening, but no points came of it. Pitt still trailed 21-10, crossing the halfway point of the third quarter.
Youngstown State wasn't done there. They put together another sustained drive, capped by a 13-yard touchdown from from Stubbs. This one went 15 plays, 78 yards. Of Youngstown State's four touchdown drives to this point of the game, one went for 10 plays and two others went 15 plays each.
Pitt added one more in the fourth quarter, as Sunseri hit Josh Brinson in stride for a 35-yard touchdown pass. It was the first catch and first touchdown of Brinson's career. Youngstown State added a 25-yard field goal to make it 31-17 lead for Youngstown State. Pitt had the ball one last time, but a reception by Street was fumbled with 1:52 left, giving the ball back to the Penguins.
Stay tuned for more from Heinz Field, including player reaction.