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Panthers dominate Rutgers 41-21

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Quarterback Tino Sunseri posts a career day and Dion Lewis tops the 100-yard mark for the first time this season as Pitt surges into first place in Big East.

After struggling in the season's first five weeks, the Panthers' offense of late could compare to the scoring of a basketball team.

After a dominating 45-14 conference opener against Syracuse last week, Pitt (4-3, 2-0) was at it again Saturday afternoon, scoring all over their Big East opponent Rutgers (4-3, 1-1), winning 41-21 at Heinz Field.

Tino Sunseri led the Panthers with a career-high 307 yards through the air, going 21-of-27 with three touchdowns.

“I was happy with how they battled the entire game,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “I was pleased with our guys' steadiness the entire game really. We just stayed the course, and as the game went on, the fundamentals, the attitude, the heart and the fight, we just kept moving forward.”

Starting off as a back-and-forth chess-match, the Panthers answered a one-yard Joe Martinek touchdown run late in the first quarter with a three-yard play action pass from Sunseri to tight end Mike Cruz, knotting the game at 7-7.

A blocked punt by Rutgers, which was recovered by Brandon Bing in the endzone, tied the game at 14 with 2:12 left in the half. The special teams touchdown was the last time the Scarlet Knights scored until the game was decided.

The Panthers' defense held Rutgers to just 203 total yards; 108 through the air and 95 on the ground.

Quarterback Chas Dodd, who started in front of sophomore standout Tom Savage, was sacked seven times, including three coming by defensive end Brandon Lindsey.

“It felt good to get out there and show that we had the confidence to stop their offense and make big plays,” said Lindsey, who finished the game with five tackles. “We're a defense that has a lot of playmakers; a lot of guys that can step up and get the job done.”

OFFENSE

The Panthers tallied up 513 total yards, including 206 yards on the ground.

Sunseri's career day, which marked the first time that the redshirt sophomore threw for over 300-yards, also jump-started receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who pulled down five of Sunseri's passes, gaining 139 yards and a touchdown. The TD was a 45-yard catch in the endzone to start the fourth quarter that saw the junior wideout box out his man and pull down the ball in mid-air.

Baldwin faced one-on-one coverage throughout much of the game.

“We have at least four opportunities a half where we're trying to get the ball to [Jonathan Baldwin]. A lot of times when he's covered, we're going to go to the next guy,” said Wannstedt. “The first three or four weeks we just haven't connected for whatever reason. Today, he had two big opportunities and made two huge plays for us. If JB is one-on-one, we have to get him the ball.”

Running back Dion Lewis also shined today, showing shades of himself a year ago, rushing for a season-high 130 yards on 17 carries and scoring one tochdown, which came on a 22-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, capping a 7-play, 73-yard drive to give the Panthers their final score of the game.

Today marked the first time that a Panthers offense had a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher in one game since Sept. 25, 2004 in a win against Furman.

“Tino played great today, and JB was making plays down field, loosening up the defense,” said Lewis, who now has 11 100-yard performances in his career at Pitt. “They were trying to stop the run at the beginning, but when they started making plays, it started opening up the running game a little bit.”

Tailback Ray Graham also had a solid afternoon, rushing for 71 yards on 14 carries and scoring the initial go-ahead touchdown for the Panthers with just eight minutes left in the half.

The Panthers' offense outscored Rutgers 27-7 in the second half, posting over 350 yards in the final two quarters.

“We knew that they would come out motivated and trying to close it out,” Wannstedt said. “Three of their four wins they won in the fourth quarter. We knew what kind of character this football team had that we were playing. I was very proud of our guys, how they stepped up in the second half. We made plays, Tino continued to make progress. It was good to see Baldwin involved, and great to see Dion have a big day.”

DEFENSE

Just as impressive was the defensive unit that completely shell-shocked the Scarlet Knights' offense in the second half, holding them to less than 80 yards and five three-and-out possessions in the half.

Rutgers went just 3-of-12 on third-down conversions, and punted the ball a total of nine times, while committing four turnovers, including a Dom Decicco interception thrown by Dodd at the Panthers' 30-yard line, erasing an impressive drive by the Scarlet Knights to start the second quarter.

Decicco finished with eight tackles, one behind the Panthers' leader of the day Jared Holley.

“I think that we're playing with a lot more confidence,” said Wannstedt of the defense. “Dom Decicco, you really have to appreciate what he does. He played safety, then we go in to third down and he moves up and he's a nickelback. Then we get in man coverage and he's lined up on the slot. There is not a player on our team, from a contribution standpoint, who conributes more than Dom does.”

The defensive line didn't disappoint, accounting for all seven of Pitt's sacks on the day, despite the Panthers blitzing just three times the entire game.

“They were literally triple-teaming Jabaal, and then you get a guy like Brandon Lindsey to step up and have three sacks,” said Wannstedt about the defensive line. “I thought our defensive line today showed up. We blitzed twice, maybe three times, and we still generated pressure from the defensive front.”

Today marked the second time in as many games that the Panthers held an offense to under 250 yards in a game.

“This is by far the best our defensive has played all year long,” said Lindsay. “It still can get better. We still can get better.”

TINO'S DAY

Coming off a previous career-high, throwing for 281 yards against Syracuse last week, Sunseri threw for his first 300-yard game in his entire life, according to the sophomore.

“It's something special to me because I've never thrown for 300 yards in my career,” said Sunseri. “I knew that we were kind of close in the last couple of drives. I kind of let Luke Getsy—who was on the headset with Frank Cignetti—know that we were kind of close and if we could do it, I would appreciate it. That felt pretty good.”

Sunseri found targets in five receivers, including fullback Henry Hynoski, who finished with seven catches for a career-high 51 yards. Tight end Mike Cruz, who caught two touchdown passes from Sunseri, including an 11-yarder early in the third quarter that gave Pitt a 21-14 lead, also had his first career touchdown.

“He's getting better every game and he's doing a great job,” said Baldwin about Sunseri. “He's doing a great job distributing the ball, and he's making it a lot easier on the receivers.”

PLAY OF THE DAY

On a 1st and 10 at the 41 yard line, Sunseri threw a pass to Baldwin, who made an incredible catch while falling on the ground for a 46-yard hookup. The play set up the Graham 13-yard touchdown.

QUOTABLE

“People are going to make plays, it's just a matter of who is going to make plays. We know we have a lot of people on offense capable of making plays. Today it was me and Baldwin. Another day it can be Ray (Graham) and (Mike) Shanahan. We just have to keep relying on each other and keep going strong.”

-Dion Lewis on the productivity of the Panthers' offense

ATTENDANCE

The Panthers had a solid crowd of 50,425 in attendance for this afternoon's game.

UP NEXT

Pitt will host Louisville (4-3, 1-1) this Saturday, Oct. 30.

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