Pitt put it all together as for the fourth time in the last four meetings, they upset the higher-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies, 35-17 at Heinz Field on Saturday.
The Pitt defense made dramatic change from its first two games--four turnovers, while holding Virginia Tech to just one offensive touchdown.
On offense, Tino Sunseri completed 19-of-28 passes for 283 yards with 3 touchdown passes. Rushel Shell rushed for 157 yards, and Ray Graham tacked on a pair of rushing touchdowns and another through the air. Devin Street and Mike Shanahan each had touchdown receptions, including a career-high 111 yards from Shanahan.
Pitt got off to a good start against Virginia Tech on Saturday, scoring on The Opening drive on just six plays. It's the most efficient the offense had looked all year, and it only got better from there.was only the beginning as Pitt jumped out to an early 21-0 lead.
The Panthers did it by providing something that lacked in the first two games--efficient offense and opportunistic play on defense. On Pitt's opening drive, a six-play, 75-yard drive, Pitt punched it in on an 11-yard touchdown run from Ray Graham. Graham's score was set up by a 33-yard pass from Tino Sunseri to Devin Street. It was the longest pass play of the season, and also a good rebound for Street who has struggled with some drops and a couple penalties this season.
Jarred Holley intercepted a Logan Thomas pass on the next series, Pitt's first turnover of the season. Though they didn't capitalize on it, they continued to build the momentum. Rushel Shell entered the game, and carried the ball 6 times out of 8 plays for a total of 37 yards. Shell's workload was sandwiched around a 40-yard pass from Sunseri to Mike Shanahan--not only a career-long reception for Shanahan, but Pitt's longest play of the season.
The Panthers capitalized with a 13-yard pass from Sunseri to Devin Street--a pass where Sunseri put just the right enough touch on it, but also to a spot where he could lead Street away from his defender.
The Pitt defense wasn't done on the next series. Logan Thomas was intercepted by Jason Hendricks--a play where there were no receivers in the vicinity, and a play where all Hendricks had to do was sit back and play centerfield. Just like their first turnover, Pitt was unable to continue the momentum. Kevin Harper missed a 35-yard field goal.
The momentum did stay on defense, as Devin Cook stripped Michael Holmes of the ball. It was recovered by Eric Williams at the Virginia Tech 10. Graham punched it in 2 plays later from five yards out. Pitt led Virignia Tech 21-3 behind three turnips, and just 16 and a half minutes into regulation.
Virginia Tech would only add a 32-yard field goal from Cody Journell. Hendricks would pick up his second interception of the game, stalling another Hokie drive. Pitt outgained Virginia Tech 305-159 in the first half.
Virginia Tech finally got on the bord after holding Pitt on the Panthers first offensive series of the second half. Kyshoen Jarrett--a one-time Pitt commit--found room, and picked up a couple of big blocks on his way to a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown. Tough Pitt had been dominant to this point, Virginia Tech trimmed the deficit to 21-10. Ronny Vandyke laid out Erice Williams and Matt Yoklic at the same time, with one block, which sprung Jarrett open for the final 40 yards of the return.
The Pitt defense came up with its biggest stand of the season, stopping Virginia Tech on downs with 8:00 left in the third quarter. Since jumping out to the 21-0 lead in the first half, the offense went back to its stagnant ways. Facing a 3rd-and-short, the Hokies went to the no-huddle to try to get the first down. Linebacker Eric Williams picked up on the play, coming off the edge to stop Thomas short of the marker. Facing a 4th-and-1, the defensive line held the running back Holmes to no gain, giving the Panthers the ball at their own 35.
Using the multiple running back option, Pitt went back to Shell. Shell carried the ball twice for 22 yards, including one for a gain of 15 where he bowled over defenders. Two plays after that, Sunseri found Graham wide-open and a waggle for an 18-yard touchdown. Pitt led 28-10, after going silent for awhile on offense.
The Pitt defense had a chance to get the ball back, but unfortunately let up an 85-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Marcus Davis. After struggling all day getting the ball in the right spots, Thomas hit Davis in one-on-one coverage it's Lafayette Pitts. He had a step on Pitts, only needing to turn upfield to make the play, and he did. The Hokies answered, making it a 28-17 game, with the fourth quarter closing in.
Stay tuned for more from Heinz Field after the game.