PITTSBURGH -- One point was blatantly obvious after watching the University of Pittsburgh football team open its second season under Dave Wannstedt: The Panthers are much faster on both sides of the line and used that advantage to beat Virginia 38-13 Saturday night at Heinz Field.
Pitt's upperclassmen also showed tremendous leadership after an interception was returned 42 yards to the 13. UVA scored with 31 seconds left in the first half and trailed just 17-10 despite being badly outplayed.
"We went in there at halftime, after the turnover and they scored,'' Wannstedt said. "I don't know what would have happened a year ago. But the seniors on this football team, we gave them all game balls. ... They kept this thing together. They came out and responded and made big plays.''
Pitt's offensive speed was evident primarily from tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling and wideout Oderick Turner. Defensively, ends Doug Fulmer and Joe Clermond, cornerback Darrelle Revis and the entire linebacking corps with Tommy Campbell, H.B. Blades and Clint Session were dominant.
"We didn't respond from adversity last year, but ... this year we have the players to come back and respond,'' Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko said. "That's what you need to do, and we hope to use this as a building block.''
Revis was pleased just to open the season with a win. "You never want to start 0-1 ... so, this gives us a lot of momentum,'' Revis said. "A lot of guys are very positive and excited, and that's how we want to keep it. We're looking forward to Cincinnati, now.''
Stephens-Howling carried 17 times for 58 yards, had two catches for 37 yards and returned the opening kickoff 31 yards. However, he suffered an ankle injury and only played the first half. Wannstedt said he should be OK for the Cincinnati game Friday night. Turner, in his first college game, toasted the Cavaliers with two catches for 92 yards, including a 72-yard TD.
Clermond and Fulmer harassed UVA quarterback Christian Olsen from the outset, while Campbell and Blades roamed from sideline to sideline to make plays. Revis shut down the Cavs downfield passing attack and intercepted a pass in the red zone and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown.
"I was surprised he threw it, because I had him covered and had help over the top, too,'' Revis said. "Eric Thatcher hit the dude as soon as I caught it, so we were waiting for that. It was great to pick it and run it back.''
Session took charge in the second quarter after a slow start. In one series, he forced Virginia to punt by himself. Session slammed sophomore tailback Cedric Peerman for a one-yard loss on first down and nailed him in the backfield immediately after he took the handoff for a seven-yard loss on he next play. On third-and-18, he forced Olsen to hurry an incompletion.
Session finished strong as well. In single coverage on the tight end, he broke on a weak out pass from backup quarterback Kevin McCabe, picked it off and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown with 3:34 remaining.
"Clint has big-time ability,'' Wannstedt said, "the ability to go to the next level. ... He has the ability to do what he did tonight, make negative plays in the run and undercut a guy in the pass and make a big play. That's just speed and God-given ability.''
Palko was sharp from the opening snap and finished with 17-for-22 passing for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He had one interception, but it wasn't his fault. Tight end Darrell Strong, who caught Palko's first TD pass from the 1, ran the wrong route. Nate Lyles picked it off in the final minute in the first half and returned it 47 yards to the 13.
Palko was especially sharp in the opening drive and displayed the offense's diversity. Palko ran Stephens-Howling and threw to him, but he also connected with five other receivers during a 14-play, 65-yard drive that lasted 7 minutes, 25 seconds. Palko was 7-for-7 in the drive with passes to Stephens-Howling, wideouts Derek Kinder (twice), Turner and Pestano, and tight ends Steve Buches and Strong (one-yard TD). In the second half, Palko and the Panthers put the game away with a 78-yard scoring pass to Kinder. Palko scrambled away from pressure and launched a strike to Kinder as cornerback Marcus Hamilton fell.
"I knew Derek would show up, but I was a little worried about (Oderick) and Marcel,'' Palko said. "But they responded well, and Oderick should have had two touchdowns. I missed him on one. ... They really showed up.''
UVA coach Al Groh wondered why his team barely made an appearance. "We're very disappointed,'' Groh said. "Embarrassed. To allow four one-play touchdowns makes it impossible for our offense to overcome. Pitt's star players played like stars tonight, and we did not have any stars.''
And that's a big difference for the Panthers from last season.
* The 1976 national championship team was honored at halftime on its 30th anniversary. The strong turnout included Jim Buoy, Art Brown, Tom Brzoza, Dave Bucklew, Matt Carroll, Jimbo Cramer, Jim Corbett, Ken Dapp, Jeff Delaney, Tony Dorsett, Steve Gaustad, Robert Gruber, John Hanhauser, Randy Holloway, Fred Jacobs, Gordon Jones, Eric Kruman, George Link, Carson Long, Joe Macerelli, Willie Marsh, Jeff Matthews, Mike McCune, Scott Mckeel Jr., George Messich, Glenn Meyer, Bob Middleman, Dave Migliore, Jim Morsilllo, Mark O'Toole, Tim Padovese, Don Parrish, Jeff Pelusi, John Pelusi, Jr., Michael Prokopovich, Randy Reutershan, Al Romano, Mark Schubert, Milt Schuler, Thom Sindewald, Robert Spears, Ralph Still, John Takacs, Willie Taylor, Willie Tolbert, Marc Torquato, Jim Triscilla, Gary Tyra, Bill Vitalie, Arnie Weatherington, Ed Wilamowski, Carlton Williams, Tom Yewcic, Dan Zelahy and head coach Johnny Majors. Wannstedt was a grad assistant on the squad, and current offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh was the quarterback.
* Redshirt freshman walk-on Conor Lee made his first career field goal from 38 yards. And he added five extra points.
* UVA was held to 18 yards rushing on 14 carries through three quarters and finished with 52 on 21, as Pitt was playing for the pass.
* Pitt won its ninth season opener in 10 tries, losing last year to Notre Dame, and is 25-6 in the past 31 first games and is 76-39-2 all-time.
* The attendance was 46,758.