Graham, averaging 134.1 yards per game, injured his right knee less than four minutes into the game, but Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri more than compensated by passing for a career-high 419 yards and two touchdowns. Pitt (4-4, 2-1 Big East) rolled up 21 points in the first half and then held UConn (3-5, 1-2) to a field goal on a key third-quarter possession as the Panthers snapped a two-game losing streak.
There's no way to sugarcoat the impact of this loss for UConn. The Huskies, now with road losses to West Virginia and Pitt in conference play, tumbled to seventh place in the Big East. And with four games left it deals a serious blow to any bowl game aspirations remaining for UConn in 2011.
UConn does play its next three games at home – against Syracuse, Louisville and Rutgers – before finishing the season Dec. 3 at first-place Cincinnati. But that's why the game Wednesday night at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field was so important and the Huskies missed a big opportunity.
Graham was injured on a short run when he planted his foot and immediately reached to his knee in pain. He later returned to the field in street clothes and on crutches. The Associated Press reported that Graham is expected to have an MRI on Thursday to determine the extent of the injury.
But the Panthers didn't miss a beat without Graham. Sunseri, who retained his starting spot at quarterback despite two consecutive difficult outings, took control with an 11-yard run down the left sideline. Then he gave Pitt the lead on an eight-yard TD run, including a pump fake that drew cornerback Dwayne Gratz off his feet.
Before the first quarter ended, Sunseri threw a 17-yard TD pass to Mike Shanahan for a 14-0 lead. Pitt took a 21-3 lead at halftime on Zach Brown's 3-yard touchdown run.
UConn's offense managed just 29 yards on its first 16 plays. Tailback Lyle McCombs did get going in the second half and rushed 25 times for 124 yards. Quarterback Johnny McEntee completed 17 of 32 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns but threw many passes that were nearly intercepted – especially in the first half when the Huskies couldn't get anything going offensively.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni had a look of frustration on his face the entire game.
"As I said to the players just a minute ago, we're going to watch this film and there's going to be a hundred little things we're going to be sick about," he said on his postgame show on WTIC-AM. "When you don't take care of every little detail and you're not in the exact position you need to be in, those things add up and become big things. That's a little bit of what happened to us tonight."
UConn ended a stretch of 10 consecutive quarters without an offensive touchdown when McEntee connected with Kashif Moore for a 62-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. UConn had not scored an offensive touchdown since the fourth quarter against Western Michigan on Oct. 1.
Dave Teggart's 31-yard field goal in the third quarter sliced Pitt's lead to 21-13. But that field goal, in reality, was a victory for Pitt's defense. It ended a 13-play, 64-yard drive that took over six minutes. Once again, the Huskies couldn't get into the end zone.
Pitt responded with a 27-yard TD pass from Sunseri to Shanahan and the Panthers were ahead 28-13 going into the fourth quarter.
"That was it," Pasqualoni said. "The three at least gave us a chance to be in a one-score game at eight [points]. So I felt, ‘Let's get it to eight and try to get out there and make them punt the ball.' . . . We just couldn't hold them."