The Panthers improved to 7-1 overall and a Conference-best 4-0 start this season going into a bye week. The next Pittsburgh game is against Syracuse Nov. 7 at Heinz Field. The time has yet to be determined.
"This was a great team win today,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We constantly talk about trying to improve every week and playing as a team, and I don't know how we could have come together any better than what happened today. ... We converted six or seven first downs in the first half. Billy came out hot again, and then defensively we created some turnovers.''
Pitt's offense was precise, as quarterback Bill Stull completed his first 11 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns and converted the opening six third-down attempts. Stull was 18-for-25 for 245 yards and two scores, and the Panthers were 11-for-16 on third down overall.
"We always talk about trying to get going on all cylinders, and today we took a step forward with that,'' Stull said. "I think this was the best first half that we played so far, and we're getting better and better every week. It's great that we're really playing well toward the end of the season.''
Pitt's opening drive went 80 yards in 11 plays and 6:10, and it was capped by a two-yard toss to redshirt freshman tight end Mike Cruz. It was his first career catch and came off a play-action when USF definitely thought it was a run.
"We came out with three tight ends, and I saw the corner bite up real hard,'' Cruz said. "I was smiling ear-to-ear and broke wide-open into the end zone. Billy got some time to see me, and he put it right there. That felt really good.''
Defensively, it appeared that Pitt would have some trouble containing USF's slick redshirt freshman quarterback, B.J. Daniels, but several early offensive penalties set back the Bulls. In fact, USF tallied nine penalties for 71 yards overall. Neither mattered in the end, as the Panthers' defense tightened with every down, and Daniels was forced to pass as Pitt piled on points.
Senior cornerback Aaron Berry, redshirt junior free safety Elijah Fields and sophomore cornerback Antwuan Reed had interceptions for the Panthers, while Steve Dell, Chas Alecxih, Brandon Lindsey and Myles Caragein tallied sacks.
"Our defensive line put a lot of heat on Daniels, and that made it easier for us in the secondary,'' Berry said. "I was glad I was able to get back in there today and make some plays, and it was great to get my first pick of the year.''
Freshman tailback Dion Lewis surpassed the 1,000-yard mark during the game to join Tony Dorsett, Curvin Richards and LeSean McCoy as the only Pitt rookie running backs to do so. Lewis ran 23 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns and has 185 carries this season for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 10 yards and has 14 for 92 and one score this season.
Lewis jammed in from the 1 midway through the second quarter to make it 21-7 and after a 48-yard burst on a draw, which was supposed to run out the clock in the first half, he scored again from the 1 with 19 seconds until halftime. Lewis has 12 touchdowns in eight games, just four from surpassing McCoy as the top freshman scorer. He also trails Dorsett and tied Larry Fitzgerald in frosh scoring.
Sophomore Jonathan Baldwin and redshirt freshman Michael Shanahan, Pitt's bookend wideouts at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds each, caught six and three passes, respectively, for 144 and 21 yards. Baldwin hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Stull to cap a second scoring drive, while Shanahan made clutch catches to move the sticks. Shanahan made his first start for the Panthers.
"I don't think the DBs realize how fast I am,'' Baldwin said. "I come up on them pretty quick, and then it's too late. I get by them. (And) Bill, he put the ball right where I can go get it. I'm glad our O-line gave him time to get it there.''
Senior tight end Dorin Dickerson caught a five-yard touchdown toss from redshirt freshman quarterback Tino Sunseri, who replaced Stull before the fourth quarter. Dickerson leads the nation with nine touchdown receptions and had five catches for 58 yards on the day.
"The difference between this year and the last one is that this year we have a lot more playmakers,'' Dickerson said. "Shady was a great player, but he was our offense. (But) this year we have Baldwin, Dion, Shanahan, Oderick Turner, Ray Graham, a lot of guys that can make plays.''
Notes: Redshirt freshman Jarred Holley started a third straight game at free safety for Fields, who actually opened as a strong-side linebacker for Greg Williams to cover Daniels and USF's speedy wideouts. ... Berry (shoulder) and redshirt frosh Cameron Saddler (ankle) returned after missing one and two games, respectively. ... Redshirt junior PK Dan Hutchins nailed field goals from 36 and 32 yards, as well as five extra points. ... Attendance was 50,019.
Pitt 41, South Florida 14
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