It didn't get much different for Pitt, ending in a 34-10 loss to open Big East play. Cincinnati had won three of the previous four meetings by a total margin of victory of 11 points. Their 24-point win on Thursday night is the biggest margin in the series' story, and sends the Panthers to the ACC with four Bearcat wins in the last four tries.
Ray Graham was one of the few bright spots for Pitt. Graham finished with 103 yards on 19 carries. Devin Street came on in the second half with a few key catches, leading Pitt with 5 receptions for 54 yards. Mike Shanahan added 5 passes for 59 yards. Tino Sunseri completed 24-of-37 passes for 278 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Sunseri was sacked 6 times and hurried another 4 times. He was stripped of the ball on his first sack of the game; responsible for both Pitt turnovers on the night.
On the opposite side, it was Munchie Legaux with a breakout game. Legaux torched the Panthers through the air, but probably moreso with his legs--14-of-28 passes for 205 yards, 2 touchdown passes and 117 yards on just 6 carries. George Winn rushed for two touchdowns, and another 95 yards on 11 carries. Fellow running back David Abernathy led the Bearcats receiving efforts with 4 catches for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Pitt went three and out on the first series of the game, which included a burned timeout and a false start penalty.
After that punt, though, Winn single-handedly caught Pitt's defense off guard with a 58-yard touchdown. He was as good as gone as soon as he hit the hole.
On the next series, Abernathy caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Legaux. This, of course, came after Walter Stewart came on a mad rush to sack quarterback Sunseri, who fumbled the ball away. Cameron Beard recovered the fumble, and the Bearcats took over at the Pitt 38, scoring four plays later.
Pitt looked like they were gaining momentum on their third series, but fell short once again following a sack on third down. Rushel Shell made his collegiate debut, carrying the ball 4 times for 25 yards, including 12 yards on his opening carry. Mike Shanahan caught a 20-yard reception on a third down play, but again it was the pass rushing from Cincinnati's defense that Pitt's offensive line could not keep up with. It wasn't the lone problem for Pitt's offense, but it was a major factor.
Desmond Brown made a great play on the ensuing punt, downing the ball on the Cincinnati one. The Bearcats made a few plays to gain 58 yards on the nine-play drive, but Cincinnati failed on a third down incompletion. The Pitt defense was starting to show signs of life; first a Nicholas Grigsby stop on running back Winn for no gain at the one, then by holding them on downs. Despite another three-and-out, the Pitt defense held again--forcing the Bearcats to punt for a second straight series. The Bearcats led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Pitt offense was generating a little more on its fifth series of the night. With Graham back at running back, he rushed 17 yards on four carries, and Cameron Saddler took off for a gain of 17 yards. Unfortunately, penalties got the best of the Panthers. Chris Jacobson committed a personal foul after an incompletion, which set up a third and long situation. Sunseri completed a short pass to Hubie Graham for minimal yardage, forcing the Panthers to punt.
That Matt Yoklic punt--his fourth of the night--went out of the end zone for a touchback. The defense--coming off two successful three-and-outs--came out and forced another. Shane Gordon coming through on a rush on third down, deflecting Legaux's passing attempt. Not just that, the Bearcats had to punt from their own 15, which for the first time all game, began to swing the field advantage game in Pitt's favor a little.
Saddler got Pitt to the Cincinnati 40 on the ensuing punt return, as the Panthers took advantage of being in opponent territory for the first time. The offense sputtered again, especially after a delay of game penalty. Facing a 3rd and 8 at the Cincinnati 37, Sunseri somehow evaded the rush, then as he was going down, pitched the ball to Graham, who scampered 31 yards to the Bearcat 6.
It appeared as Graham scored a touchdown two plays later, but holding was called. With the ball pushed back to the 16, and with its best scoring chance of the game, Sunseri was picked off by Greg Blair in the end zone, effectively ending Pitt's drive.
Cincinnati looked as if they were going to make it an easy 21-0 lead at the half. The Bearcats were knocking on the door, following runs of 26 and 22 by quarterback Legaux got his team to the Pitt 7. Jack Lippert stepped up to trip Legaux up for a loss of three, facing a 1st and goal at the Pitt 3. Shane Gordon then sacked Legaux for a loss of 12, which actually took the Bearcats out of the red zone in just two plays. Cincinnati settled for a 39-yard field goal from kicker Tony Miliano, and they took a 17-0 lead into the locker room.
Pitt's defense started off the second half riding that same momentum they had at the end of the first half. Though the Bearcats got one first down, Shane Gordon made another big play--breaking up a pass on a second down attempt--that helped lead to the fourth Cincinnati punt in the previous five series. When Pitt got the ball back, Ray Graham put the team on his shoulders--breaking away with a 51-yard gain. Had he not run out of gas towards the end of that run, who knows how far he would have gone. Three plays later, Graham took a nine-yard screen pass from Sunseri and nearly got a first down for Pitt. Instead, it set up a 4th-and-1 at the Cincinnati 17. The Panthers elected to go for it again, just as they did at the end of the first half. Graham took the handoff, and got the tough yard. Despite taking baby steps towards coming back in this game, the Panthers were forced to settle for a field goal--a 37-yarder from Kevin Harper. They trailed 17-3 with 7:00 left in the third quarter.
Just when it looked like Pitt's defense had turned a page in this game, they completely let their guard down. Legaux juked away from a diving tackler, then sprinted all the way to the Pitt 9--a gain of 77 yards. Winn punched it in on the next play from 9 yards out. Cincinnati led 24-3 with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
Legaux added a second touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter--a 12-yarder to Abernathy for his second of the game, which made it 31-3 with 13:54 left in the game. Miliano tacked on a 46-yard field goal with 3:55 left in the game.
Pitt did get an actual touchdown with under a minute left in the game; a 9-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Drew Carswell, with many of the Cincinnati starters out of the game.
Stay tuned for more from Nippert Stadium, including player reaction.