Using a gameplan which third-year head coach Dave Wannstedt called "almost too simple" the Panthers rode an impressive power running game to what just might be the most shocking upset in the 100-game history of the Backyard Brawl.
Virtually every media outlet with an opinion from sea to shining sea had crowned the Mountaineers as a BCS title game participant in the days leading up to Saturday's Brawl. Meanwhile, Wannstedt and his team were tapping into the ghosts of Pitt past, looking for any and every angle of motivation to topple the Mountaineers (as if there weren't enough already).
"I think this thing probably started last week when every day we tried to bring alive the great tradition of this rivalry in the 100th year," Wannstedt said. "We showed them tapes from past games all week long.
"When we were driving in here, the players were kind of quiet on the bus, but the fans were screaming. Our bus got hit with a rock or a can or something, and LaSean McCoy stood up and said ‘Hey coach, it's just like the movies.' I think everybody loosened up then."
McCoy, the stud freshman bell cow of the revamped Panther ground game, never looked more loose than he did in his first Backyard Brawl. The Harrisburg, Pa. product by way of Milford Prep carried the rock 38 times for 148 yards to lead the way for Pitt. By riding McCoy, the Panthers kept West Virginia's explosive offense off the field, and kept the pressure away from the shoulders of true freshman quarterback Pat Bostick.
It's a good thing, too, as Bostick was just 10-19 through the air with a pair of interceptions, including one on his first attempt of the night right into the arms of Mountaineer senior Antonio Lewis.
Simply put, the Panthers beat West Virginia at its own game by effectively running the football and stonewalling the normally-lights out Mountaineer running game with an improved, and much speedier defense. The defensive effort in particular stood in stark contrast to Pitt performances against the Mountaineers the past two seasons when Steve Slaton and Pat White made career highlight films against the Panthers.
"Two years ago, with my quote walking off at halftime when they said what do you have to tell the team and I said ‘to run faster'," Wannstedt recalled. "Well, we ran a little faster today, and we need to get a lot faster. That was definitely a difference. I don't know what their longest run was, but cutting down on those big plays was the difference."
The longest play from scrimmage for West Virginia was a 21-yard scramble by White, for the record. White missed the final five minutes of the first half, and much of the second half after dislocating his right (non-throwing) thumb following a short scramble.
Sophomore backup Jarrett Brown, who nearly a year to the date had heroically led the Mountaineers to victory over Rutgers filling in for an injured White, tried once again to spark some life into the stagnant Mountaineers. Brown was met with the same hard-hitting, well-executing Pitt defense that had knocked White out of the game. No matter who was taking the snaps for West Virginia, the result seemed to be the same: few points, few yards, and more stall outs than an '87 Chevette.
On the night, the Mountaineers totaled just 104 yards via the rushing attack, that coming on 41 carries. West Virginia's 79 yards passing were of little complement to a running game that averaged better than 300 yards per contest prior to the night. The Mountaineers ran just 12 offensive plays during a 20 minute span in the second half, not including a fumble on the opening kick of the third quarter that was recovered by the Panthers.
"It was just a nightmare. The whole thing was a nightmare," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I didn't sleep well for a week and I won't sleep well for the next couple."
The vices that plagued Rodriguez's team against Pitt -- turnovers, missed opportunities, and a lack of execution on offense -- were eerily similar to the mistakes that ultimately doomed the Mountaineers in a September loss to South Florida.
With West Virginia trailing 13-7 late in the fourth quarter, White ran back onto the field looking to add yet another tale to his big book of legendary leadership. Needless to say, it was not to be.
West Virginia's consolation on paper is a Big East Championship and BCS bowl berth. On this night, though, there is no consoling anyone in old gold and blue.