After one half at Heinz Field, the Pitt Panthers lead the favored Hokies from Virginia Tech, 21-3. Paul Chryst's team is trying to avoid an 0-3 start, and they took advantage of some first-half turnovers by the Hokies to jump out to a quick three-touchdown lead. The Panthers did not force one turnover in the first two weeks of the season, but they pressured quarterback Logan Thomas early on and gave their offense a chance to move it on Bud Foster's defense.
Tino Sunseri and Ray Graham set the tone early on offense, marching the Panthers down the field on their opening possession for a quick 7-0 lead. Sunseri connected with Devin Street on a 33-yarder, and Drew Carswell on a 23-yarder to set up Graham for a 12-yard scamper into the end zone. The drive lasted less than three minutes, and was probably their most impressive possession of the season.
It was the defense's turn on the second possession of the game, as they forced the first of three Thomas interceptions. The big VT quarterback moved the Hokies into Pitt territory looking to respond to the opening Panthers score, but he forced one into traffic on a quick slant. The ball was tipped and Jarred Holley came down with it, stalling the Tech scoring threat.
Heralded freshman running back Rushel Shell did the heavy lifting on the Panthers second scoring drive. Shell carried the ball on six of seven plays, which included back-to-back runs of 11 yards. Sunseri hit Mike Shanahan for a quick 40-yard pick up to put Pitt back in the red zone, and he'd lob it over the VT defense to the left corner of the end zone for a Street touchdown and the 14-0 lead.
The Panthers drove into the red zone on their next possession, but kicker Kevin Harper was off the mark from 35 yards out. Virginia Tech would give it right back, however, as Michael Holmes had the ball punched free on the first play from inside their own 20. The ball bounced toward the goal line and a host of Pitt defenders were there to pounce on it. Graham rushed it twice to cover the final ten yards and push the Panthers ahead, 21-0.
The Hokies moved the ball on their final two possessions, but they only came away with three points. The Pitt defense rose up and stopped Tech inside the 15-yard-line to force a Cody Journell field goal. Thomas appeared to be getting in rhythm, running a two-minute drill and moving the offense down the field to try and cut into the 18-point lead. But again he overthrew his receiver, hitting Pitt's Jason Hendricks right in the numbers.
Thomas was picked off three times, the first time the Hokies have had three interceptions in a game since 2008. Pitt's offense has had little trouble taking advantage. Sunseri is 10 of 14 for 185 yards and both Graham and Shell are averaging better than five yards per carry.
For more on Pittsburgh football, visit Pitt blog Cardiac Hill, plus SB Nation Pittsburgh. And Big East Coast Bias, for the time being. For more on Hokies football, visit Virginia Tech blog Gobbler Country.