Utah 26 … at Pitt 14

Posted Oct 15, 2011

Week 7 CFN Fearless Prediction & Game Story - Utah at Pitt

2011 Predictions & Game Story 

Week 7 - Utah at Pitt

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Oct. 15 Utah 26 … at Pitt 14
CFN Analysis: The Utah offensive line couldn't keep Jon Hays from getting popped, but it was able to pave the way for a huge day from John White to go along with a great day from the defense. White ran for 171 yards on 36 carries to make up for the problems in the passing game, but both teams have problems with the wind, as well as the big pass rushes. The Utes didn't turn the ball over and did a great job at hanging on to the ball, keeping it for close to 38 minutes, but the ten penalties were a bit too many and the offense settled for too many field goals. Even so, the D didn't allow any points after getting down 14-3 late in the first quarter, and Coleman Petersen came through with a great game hitting four field goals. After the blowout losses against Arizona State and Washington, and after scoring just 14 points in each of the first three Pac-12 games, this was exactly what the team needed going into the road trip to Cal.

Pitt's offensive line continues to be a nightmare. Utah doesn't have much of a pass rush but it was still able to get into the backfield on a regular basis and screw up the Panther passing game. Tino Sunseri and trey Anderson combined to complete 5-of-19 passes for 12 yards, with Anderson throwing two picks. Utah quickly figured out that the Pitt passing game wasn't working, and everyone loaded up on Ray Graham. The eight penalties were bad, the three turnovers were worse, and the 120 yards of total offense was embarrassing. Now losing four of the last five games, the South Florida win is looking more and more like a fluke.

(AP) PITTSBURGH -- John White ran for 171 yards and Coleman Petersen kicked four field goals in the tricky Heinz Field winds to lead Utah by reeling Pittsburgh 26-14 on Saturday.

The Utes (3-3) snapped a two-game losing streak behind the legs of White and Petersen and an impressive defensive effort to improve to 9-0 all-time against current members of the Big East.

Petersen, who'd made four field goals all year coming in, converted kicks of 23, 34, 39 and 45 yards in winds that gusted over 30 mph.

Utah defensive end Derrick Shelby returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown with 1:12 to go as the Utes sent Pitt (3-4) to its second straight loss.

The Panthers managed just 120 total yards, turned it over three times and a reconfigured offensive line allowed quarterbacks Trey Anderson and Tino Sunseri to get sacked six times.

Pitt running back Ray Graham managed a season-low 46 yards, more than 100 yards below his average.

"We had a game plan and believed in it," Shelby said. "We knew we had to tackle Ray Graham and it looks like we did that."

The injury-riddled Utes, playing without leading receiver DeVonte Christopher and quarterback Jordan Wynn, won by holding onto the ball, something they failed to do in losses to Washington and Arizona State when they turned it over a combined 10 times.

Quarterback Jon Hays completed 14 of 23 passes 127 yards and a score without throwing an interception, though the game belonged to White, Petersen and Utah's front seven.

White carried the ball 35 times, allowing Utah to hold the ball for nearly 38 minutes. Though the Utes had trouble finishing drives, Petersen found a way to deal with the swirling winds that ruffled officials' pants and made throwing the ball nearly impossible.

Not that Sunseri or Anderson had time to throw. Pitt came in allowing 28 sacks on the season, easily the highest in the country.

Pitt coach Todd Graham shuffled the line in hopes of providing some protection, moving Matt Rotheram to right tackle and Jordan Gibbs to center.

It didn't work. Sunseri and Anderson spent most of the day trying to scramble out of danger. When they did they combined to complete 9 of 30 passes for 50 yards.

Their inability to get anything going allowed the Utes to focus on Ray Graham, who came in averaging nearly 150 yards a game and was off to the best six-game start in the program's history.

"It kind of got frustrating out there because everywhere I went, somebody was there," Graham said. "But we've got great players on this team, and they're going to do their job. When I can't execute, somebody else is going to come in to do something."

There were no holes to be had this time as the "high octane" offense Todd Graham promised when he took over in January fizzled for the second straight game.

"It was embarrassing," he said. "We didn't execute anything in the passing game at all."

Utah's line wasn't much better than Pitt's, giving up seven sacks, but the Utes were able to move the ball enough to put Petersen in position to convert. He gave Utah the lead with a 39-yard kick in the third quarter then added a career-long 45 yarder in the fourth quarter to push Utah's lead to 19-14.

The Panthers moved to the Utah 35 midway through the fourth quarter but Anderson threw incomplete on fourth down. It would be Pitt's last chance. Anderson was intercepted twice in the final minutes, including a botched screen pass to Ray Graham that allowed Shelby picked off and hustled down the sideline for the game-sealing touchdown with 1:12 to play.

Even with the offense sputtering the Panthers took a 14-13 halftime lead behind a pair of spectacular special teams plays.

Buddy Jackson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, bouncing off two Utah tacklers at the Pitt 15 before sprinting to the outside and racing down the sideline for a score.

The unit needed just four plays to strike again. The Pitt defense forced a three-and-out and Andrew Taglianetti blocked Nick Marsh's punt. Antwuan Reed picked up the loose ball at the 10 and strolled into the end zone to put Pitt up 14-3, the first punt block for a score by the Panthers since 1995.

"Obviously, when you score a touchdown on defense or special teams, it can be a big momentum shift for that team," Taglianetti said. "But we still had a tough time."

This nonconference game has no bearing on Pitt's hopes of winning the Big East, but with the season more than halfway gone, the Panthers know they're running out of time.

"We have to come back," Taglianetti said. "We have to bounce back. We've still got five conference games remaining, and those are the big ones."

Utah (2-3) at Pittsburgh (3-3) Oct. 15, 12:00, ESPNU

Here's The Deal … Utah and Pittsburgh meet for the third time in a repeat of the 2004 Fiesta Bowl pairing. Rest assured that neither program is thinking BCS bowl game these days. Both schools have fumbled through the first half of the year, failing to adequately navigate transitional seasons. The Panthers have lacked consistency in head coach Todd Graham's debut, following up a breakout upset of South Florida with an embarrassing, 34-10 collapse to Rutgers last week.

Pitt needs to figure out what kind of a team it's going to be if it has any hopes of competing in the wide-open Big East. The Utes have been an enigma as well, destroying BYU, 54-10, in Week 3 before being outclassed in Salt Lake City in consecutive conference games with Washington and Arizona State. They'll now set out on their longest road trip in years in search of the formula that perennially made it one of the premier non-AQ programs before joining the Pac-12.

Why Utah Might Win: The defense is better than the numbers indicate, often falling prey to too many turnovers and three-and-outs from the offense. The Utes are a stout, disciplined bunch that's only allowing 99 yards a game on the ground. If Pittsburgh is unable to run the ball with Ray Graham, it doesn't have enough from the passing game to keep drives alive. Plus, the patchwork, leaky Panthers offensive line is going to have its hands full with the Utah front seven. While NT Star Lotulelei and DE Trevor Reilly anchor the front, linebackers Brian Blechen, Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker are never far behind in run defense.

Why Pittsburgh Might Win: Utah's problems on offense have been exacerbated by the loss of starting QB Jordan Wynn to injury. Replacement Jon Hays struggled against Arizona State in his first start, throwing three interceptions. The inability to mount a consistent passing game is allowing defenses to focus more attention on RB John White, whose progress has been stalled the last two weeks. The Panthers will mimic that blueprint by pressing up FS Jarred Holley and linebackers Max Gruder and K'Waun Williams. Pitt has proven to be a much more effective team at home this fall than it's been away from Heinz Field.

What To Watch Out For: Which Pitt team shows up, the one that blasted South Florida from the ranks of the Top 25 or the one that bowed meekly to an average Rutgers team last week? It all depends on the play of an offensive line that's hindering the play of everyone around it. The Panthers have been whipped for 28 sacks, killing QB Tino Sunseri's attempts to grow within the new system. It's unlikely that Utah will need to blitz in order to generate pressure this weekend, allowing the linebackers and safeties to sit back and blanket TE Hubie Graham and WR Devin Street.

What Will Happen: After losing to Arizona State last weekend, Utah called an emotional players meeting. Sometimes that sort of move works, and sometimes it doesn't. In this case, the Utes will use it as a rallying cry in a mild upset. While neither team is clicking at this time, Utah's advantage at the point of attack will provide the difference in a close game. Hays will be much more comfortable in his second career start, helping free up White to make things happen on the ground. The defense will take care of the rest, continuing Pitt's problems in pass protection.

CFN Prediction: Utah 23 … Pittsburgh 20
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