WVU football: WVU rolls in Brawl
PITTSBURGH - West Virginia nearly doubled its offensive output from the first half with one play on the first drive of the second half and followed two Tavon Austin touchdown receptions to a 35-10 victory against Pitt Friday.
"I can't tell you enough what a big win that was for West Virginia, this staff and me personally," said Coach Bill Stewart, who avoided a third straight losing record on the road and will finish 3-2 away from home this season. "Coming on the road in the Big East and winning any time is special and to win in a pretty good manner is even more pleasant."
A Heinz Field crowd of 60,562 watched the Mountaineers (8-3, 4-2 Big East) not only prevent Pitt (6-5, 4-2) from clinching a share of the Big East championship in the Backyard Brawl, but also assert themselves as a contender.
"I believed going into the beginning of the year we were the best team," Austin said. "We lost two hard games, but at the same time, we've still got a chance to say we're the best in the Big East."
Connecticut (6-4, 3-2) is now the only team that controls its fate for the conference title, thanks to head-to-head victories against WVU and Pitt. The Huskies will win the Big East's BCS bid if they win out at home against Cincinnati Saturday and at South Florida next week.
Should the Huskies lose one, WVU has a chance. The Mountaineers have the head-to-head win against Pitt that'd break the tie if they both finish 5-2 in the conference. They play host to Rutgers Saturday. The Scarlet Knights (4-7, 1-5) lost to Louisville Friday, 40-13.
The Mountaineers have followed back-to-back losses with three straight wins and by a combined score of 89-30 against the conference's top-ranked passing (Cincinnati), rushing (Louisville) and scoring (Pitt) offenses. WVU suddenly finds itself in position to again be called the Big East's best.
"We feel like we're the best team in the nation, if you ask us," quarterback Geno Smith said. "We need Connecticut to lose, and I hope they do. No disrespect to those guys, but that's just the way it goes."
WVU took control on the third play of the second half when Smith shook off a second-down sack and threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to Austin for a 21-10 lead. WVU had 75 yards of offense in the whole first half.
"We came out after halftime and gave up one play to begin the second half and then the air kind of came out of the balloon," said Pitt Coach Dave Wannstedt. "We had to play catch-up, right into their hands."
The Panthers kicked a field goal in the third quarter to make it 21-10, but WVU answered with a 10-play drive and a 12-yard pass from Smith to Austin on third-and-7.
The 28-10 deficit meant Pitt would need three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. No opponent has scored more than 21 points against WVU all season. The Mountaineers remain the only FBS team capable of making that claim.
Fullback Ryan Clarke added a 2-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to make matters worse for the Panthers.
Austin's third two-touchdown game of the season featured two catches for 83 yards and one carry for 12 yards. Smith completed 9 of 12 passes for 212 yards and three touchdowns and received consistent protection from his offensive line. He was sacked twice by a Pitt defensive line that had all 27 of the team's sacks this season.
Running back Shawne Alston had 71 yards rushing and Clarke added 29 and two touchdowns as WVU finished with 148 in the game and 132 after halftime.
"The first half, we didn't have the ball as much," said left tackle Don Barclay. "The second half, we kind of took it to them and kept running the ball at them. Then we were able to pass and it was open because we'd been so good running at them.
Receiver Jock Sanders, who insisted at the conference's media day in August the Big East title went through WVU, had four catches for 70 yards and became the school's all-time leader in receptions on an 8-yard gain in the third quarter. He has 195 receptions in his career, four more than David Saunders.
The Panthers committed four turnovers - WVU had none - and rushed for 78 yards on 27 carries with an average of 2.9 yards per attempt. Quarterback Tino Sunseri was 28-for-46 for 248 yards - the most against WVU this season -- and a touchdown, but he threw a costly interception early and then lost a fumble at the start of the fourth quarter when the Panthers were inside the WVU 10-yard line and down 28-10.
"We had two or three opportunities to get points," Wannstedt said. "You're only going to get so many opportunities against them."
WVU took a 14-7 lead into thfe half based almost entirely on two plays - and only one from the offense. Cornerback Brandon Hogan ended Pitt's opening drive with an interception at the WVU 45 and returned it to the Pitt 2. Clarke scored on the next snap.
After trading punts, the Panthers converted two third downs and scored on an 8-yard pass from Sunseri to Devin Street.
The score stayed the same until WVU's offense took over after Pitt's third turnover of the half and moved 48 yards on a swing pass from Smith to Noel Devine. Smith threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Will Johnson on the next snap.
The Mountaineers had 75 yards of offense in the half on just 16 snaps and only had the ball for 7:46. Take away Devine's mostly individual effort on the swing pass and WVU had 15 plays and 27 yards.
"It wasn't frustration," Stewart said. "We just couldn't get the ball. When we had the ball, we were 1-for-4 on third down."
Pitt had the ball 22:34 and ran 45 plays for 205 yards. The Panthers were also 8-for-12 on third down against WVU's top-ranked third-down defense. The Mountaineer had only allowed 12 third-down conversions in five Big East games. The past three opponents were 7-for-42. The Panthers finished 9-for-17.
Sunseri, who was 17-for-25 for 129 yards in the first half, completed 7 of 9 pass attempts on third down and picked up 87 yards and five first downs. He also scrambled for 18 and 22 yards on third down plays for first downs and twice used a pump fake in the open field and past the line of scrimmage to take a defender out of the play.
"I was very much in a non-easy, non-comfort zone in the first half," Stewart said. "I just didn't see our defense in synch. I got after the defense pretty good at halftime - coaches and players. We were a step behind I said, 'My god, we don't have a chance. This has got to change.'"
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.