Utah Fights Back, Steps Up
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 3, 2010
At the end of the first half, Utah had doubled Pittsburgh in total offense, gaining 215 yards to the Panthers’ 106. Three turnovers, however, prevented Utah from taking more than a 14-7 lead into the locker room: one led to Pittsburgh’s lone first half score, another came in Pittsburgh’s end zone late in the second quarter. This was the story of this game: Utah shooting itself in the foot, allowing Pittsburgh to remain in the game, but eventually pulling out a very meaningful victory. What can the Utes learn from the win? That it doesn’t pay to make mistakes, for starters. In addition, Utah can take this into next Saturday: it committed three turnovers, two leading directly to Pittsburgh points, and still beat a top 15, B.C.S. bowl contender. That means more than anything.
Pittsburgh fought hard, Pittsburgh fought tough. The Panthers crawled back into the game on three occasions in the fourth quarter, each time reversing the tenor of a game seemingly headed in Utah’s favor.
The first came with Utah holding a 17-10 lead early in the quarter: Pittsburgh put together an extended scoring drive, albeit one that ended unsatisfactorily. The Panthers settled for a field goal, again coming up short when inside the Utah red zone. That drew the Panthers within four points, well within striking range with more than 10 minutes left to play.
After another big play from Devonte Christopher — who was terrific, by the way — Pittsburgh finally found Jon Baldwin, with a successful two-point conversion drawing the Panthers within a field goal. Later, with the game on the line, quarterback Tino Sunseri earned his stripes in leading the Panthers to a game-tying field goal as time expired. On second thought, maybe he didn’t. But on a third look, yes, yes he did. Unfortunately, Sunseri’s lasting memory from this game will be the interception he threw to open overtime. He’ll grow from this experience, becoming a better quarterback — a better leader — because of his one misstep.
Let’s give credit to Pittsburgh in this regard. The Panthers are obviously a well-coached, mentally sound bunch, a group able to maintain its composure despite the negatives that plagued this game’s first three quarters. Yes, turnovers are great — but can be frustrating if you remain unable to convert them into touchdowns, which Pittsburgh did not do on a blocked punt in the third quarter. That resulted in only a field goal; a potential four-point swing that factored heavily into the final result. When push came to shove late in the game, the Panthers stepped up: any doubt that the Panthers are one of the top two teams in the Big East?
More credit goes to Utah. No, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, one could make the case that Utah needs to back to the drawing board in an effort to clean up the sloppiness that plagued its overtime victory. Too many turnovers: you might win one, you might win two, but you’re not achieving your lofty goals while turning the ball over more than three times against premier competition.
Jordan Wynn was banged up a bit, which explains at least somewhat his erratic play. He hit his share of big plays, finding Christopher for that long-distance score and Jerome Brooks twice for scores, including a 46-yard connection in the third quarter. Still, his numbers, when taken from a distance, were very good: 21 of 36 for 283 yards and 3 touchdowns.
When it came down to it, during Utah’s overtime possession, it gave the ball to Matt Asiata once, twice, three times before setting up a chip-shot field goal to take the 27-24 win. When I discussed this game yesterday, I said Utah’s strong front four — its ability to stifle the run — would decide the game. This was the deciding factor, as the Utes limited Pittsburgh’s Dion Lewis to 75 yards on 25 carries. The run defense was particularly stout in the second half: Lewis earned only 20 yards on 12 carries in the final two quarters and overtime.
I also thought it would be tight: no big prediction there, of course, but it turned out to be correct. The Panthers won’t take a victory back to Pittsburgh, but they can feel confident that Sunseri is the answer under center; that the defense can also stop the run, by and large; and that they are still a Top 25 team, though perhaps not the 15th-best team in the country. Utah can survive for another day, keeping its undefeated hopes alive, and hang its hat on yet another victory against a B.C.S. conference opponent. I don’t think we can doubt Utah’s resiliency, even if the bumps along the way were nearly universally self-inflicted.
Tags: Dion Lewis, Jordan Wynn, Matt Asiata, Pittsburgh, Tino Sunseri, Utah
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