A Program Builder

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon believed that this game could be a turning point for the Panthers football program, just like it was when his team knocked off Ohio State a number of years ago, and he told the football players as much in a speech to them two days earlier.

Pittsburgh followed through with a heart-stopping 21-20 win against Iowa Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field. The Panthers improved to 2-1 overall and open Big East play at Syracuse Saturday at noon, while the Hawkeyes (3-1) dropped their first game this season and play Northwestern at home.

"Coach Dixon came and talked to us on Thursday and said that this was a big program-builder for us,'' Pitt redshirt junior defensive tackle Mick Williams said. "So, that was all that we were saying out there. That this is going to build our program. He told us that when Brandin Knight played, it was (at) Ohio State (Dec. 19, 2001) for them, and it's Iowa for us. So, this was a big win for us.

"We knew we had to dig deep, because this is our program-builder right here. ... We know that the Big Ten is a great (conference), but the Big East is great, too. There was a lot of talk about the bigger players in the Big Ten, but we proved that the Big East is just as good as any other conference.''

Williams and Pitt's defensive line were especially strong in the fourth quarter and appeared to wear down Iowa's bigger offensive line. This was critical, because the Panthers saw their early 14-3 lead turn into a 17-14 disadvantage through three quarters and went three-and-out three straight times after a spectacular 80-yard scoring drive in nine plays and 4:07 provided the margin of victory just 1:23 into the fourth quarter.

Tailback LeSean McCoy, who put Pitt at an early disadvantage with another fumble that led to an Iowa field goal, ran five times for 41 yards in the drive. He also caught a shovel pass from quarterback Bill Stull for 28 yards and capped the drive with a blazing 27-yard scoring run. On a fourth-and-one from the 30, Stull ran for three yards to set up McCoy's scoring run.

"That was big,'' McCoy said. "I give their defense a lot of credit. They did everything they could to stop me, but we kept working at it. Coach Cavanaugh made a great call, and our O-line made some great blocks. And I was able to take it to the house. That was a big play for me, because our defense had to bail me out early. Hopefully, they think I gave it back to them at the end.''

Actually, Pitt's defense bailed out the offense the rest of the way. After what Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt described as one of three defensive breakdowns, a 40-yard hookup from Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen to wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the Panthers held the Hawkeyes to a 39-yard field goal by Trent Mossbrucker that closed out the scoring with nearly 11 minutes left.

The other big plays by Iowa were a 32-yard run by running back Shonn Greene on a second-and-19 play and a 48-yard pass from quarterback Ricky Stanzi to tight end Tony Moeaki. Both were early in the game, but the Panthers defense was dominant in that final 11 minutes.

"We just needed this win, and we just dug down deep and did our thing,'' Williams said. "(Defensive line) coach (Greg) Gattuso told us to keep being relentless, and that's always in our heads. So, we try to give a fanatical effort on every play to create havoc for our opponent. And that was the difference.''

Pitt forced a three-and-out on Iowa's ensuing possession and after giving up one first down, Williams made two huge plays to shut down Iowa. He deflected a pass and beat a double team to sack Christensen on third-and-10 to force a punt. Defensive end Greg Romeus had a sack on the final Hawkeyes drive and recovered a fumble after it was forced by end Tony Tucker.

"We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game, and they were very aggressive early in the game,'' Romeus said. "We weren't getting as much pressure as we wanted, but we just had to keep working hard and keep pressing them. Our rotation kept us fresh, and it paid off in those last couple drives.''

Mossbrucker opened the scoring with a 26-yard field goal after McCoy's fumble, but Pitt came back with two scores and led 14-10 at halftime. On its second possession, Stull connected with fifth-year senior wideout Derek Kinder for 20 yards, hooked up with senior fullback Conredge Collins for six on a fourth-and-two play from the Iowa 40 and hit junior wideout T.J. Porter for 13 to the 21.

On third-and-six from the 17, junior quarterback Greg Cross entered the game for the first time this season. Stull stayed in and eventually split out. The snap went to Cross, and he dazzled the Hawkeyes with his speed and athleticism on his way to a 17-yard scoring run. Four Iowa players missed tackles during Pitt's 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive in 4:19.

The Panthers went 54 yards in 10 plays and 4:06 on their next possession, as freshman Andrew Taglianetti partially blocked an Iowa punt that rolled 10 yards. Senior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling ran around end for 13 yards on a fourth-and-one, and a late hit put the ball at the 8. Two plays later, Stull ran a quarterback draw up the middle for the score.

Greene closed the gap for Iowa with a six-yard touchdown burst. He finished with 147 yards on 23 carries, but place-kicker Daniel Murray -- who rotates with Mossbrucker -- missed from 35 yards just 1:21 before the half.

Notes: Junior TE Dorin Dickerson got his first start for Pitt, as the Panthers opened with him split out in a three-wide set. ... Redshirt sophomore Elijah Fields got his first start at strong safety. ... Stull and Cross scored their first TDs, while OLB Greg Williams had his first sack and DE Tucker's forced fumble was his first stat. ... The attendance was 50,321.

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