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Pitt fumbles away Big East lead in 35-10 loss to WVU

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Brandon Hogan's interception and fumble recovery led to touchdowns in the first half, Geno Smith threw two scoring passes to Tavon Austin after halftime and West Virginia smacked Pitt 35-10 on Friday.

Expectations can be an ugly foe.

While the majority of the national media, and fans alike, projected Pitt (6-5, 4-2) to win the Big East's BCS bowl berth, it was West Virginia (8-3, 3-3) who made those hopes look mighty dim, knocking down the Panthers 35-10 at Heinz Field Friday afternoon.

The Panthers, who have now lost their final game at home two years in a row, outgained West Virginia 284-212 in total offense but committed four costly turnovers.

The Mountaineers are now riding a two-game winning streak over Pitt, after winning 19-16 in Morgantown last season.

“We got ourselves a good win. To win in a pretty good manner like this is pleasant,” said West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart. “This is a tribute to our players and our staff. I'm really happy.”

“This feels good,” echoed defensive tackle Scooter Berry. “This feels especially good doing it in Pittsburgh, and beating a team that you're not much of a fan of. This is a rivalry. Everybody wants to win a rivalry game more than anything else.”

West Virginia, who only scored one touchdown in the second half during Big East play this season before today, found the endzone three times in the final 30 minutes, including a 71-yard hookup from quarterback Geno Smith to Tavon Austin just two minutes into the half, giving the Mountaineers a 21-7 advantage.

Austin finished the day as the Mountaineers' offensive hero, catching two touchdowns on two receptions, including a 12-yard pass from Smith, which capped a 10-play, 67-yard drive and gave WVU a commanding 28-10 lead with little time left in the third quarter.

The Mountaineers held a 14-7 lead at the half, despite Pitt dominating the stat column, outgaining them 205-75, holding 12 first down's to WVU's 2, and going 8 of 12 on third down conversion's.

“I was very much in a non-easy, non-comfort zone in the first half,” said Stewart. “I just didn't see our defense in sync. I know we had a big play, we had the big pick, I saw some fumbles come out, but I was just really frustrated. I got after them pretty good at halftime. We were just a step behind. You can not allow an offense to keep coming and coming because they'll find a chink in the armor.. You just can't give up that many yards. You can't do that.”

A Smith to Noel Devine 48-yard swing pass set up a two-yard play-action pass from Smith to Will Johnson for a touchdown that gave the Mountaineers the touchdown lead just five minutes before the half.

Smith finished 9 of 12 for 212 yards and three touchdowns. He also scrambled for 27 yards on eight attempts.

“That was a gamebreaker,” said Stewart about Divine's catch-and-run. “That really gave us the spark we needed to finish the game.”

Pitt, who started off the Big East season 3-0, only to lose their last two of three, never really found momentum in the second half. A Tino Sunseri to Jonathan Baldwin 48-yard hookup set the Panthers up at the Mountaineer 25-yard line, but failed to get another first down and relied on kicker Dan Hutchins to supply the only points of the second half, a 42-yard field goal.

“We really got off to a bad start. I thought I could make a throw and it didn't happen," said Sunseri of his interception on the game's first drive. "When you play a good team like West Virginia, those mistakes will come back to bite you.”

Sunseri finished 28 of 46 with 284 yards, a touchdown, and one interception.

The Panthers had the ball inside the 30-yard line two times in the game, but fumbled both times, including a snap that sailed over Sunseri's head on a 2nd and 6 play in the red-zone for Pitt, which was recovered by Scooter Berry at the 24-yard line to give West Virginia the ball and pretty much elminate any hope Pitt had of getting back in the game.

“They were crucial in this game,” said Berry about the turnovers. “When the offense is struggling a little bit, you have to give them that push, and that was the push we could supply- giving them the turnovers and putting the ball right back in their hands.  Yeah, that was big.”

“It always helps when you have a defense like ours,” said Smith. “You can do different things and open up the playbook a little bit more. When you have confidence like we do in our defense, it takes a lot of pressure off of the offense and me.”

West Virginia's defense held the Panthers out of the endzone for three quarters, despite Pitt going 9 of 17 on third down conversions, and having a time of possession of 33:28.  

“The turnovers prevented us from taking the lead,” said Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt. “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. We had to play catch up, right into their hands."

The four turnovers, as well as the six total fumbles by the Panthers, marked a season-high for the team.

BIG EAST PICTURE

West Virginia is still not the solidified winner of the league, thanks to Connecticut defeating them 16-13 on Oct. 29.  

If Connecticut (6-4, 3-2) defeats Cincinnati on Saturday, then beats South Florida in Tampa next Saturday, they will win the Big East conference.

If Connecticut loses one of those two games, and West Virginia defeats Rutgers in their final game of the season next Saturday, the Mountaineers will win the conference.

In order for Pitt to win the Big East, both Connecticut and West Virginia would have to lose (UCONN one out of two games), and they would have to win at Cincinnati next Saturday.

DEVINE'S STATUS

Running back Noel Devine had just four carries for 30 yards, and one pass reception.  According to Stewart, the speedy tailback is suffering from bruises on his foot and an injured ankle.

“He has bone bruises on the one foot, and he got bent backward at Louisville on his ankle,” said Stewart. “He's very sore, but he wanted to play.  He still can run fast.  But honest to God, I don't think he has the jump and the cutting ability he once had.”

Devine will more than likely play against Rutgers next Saturday.

Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke have filled the void for Devine, combining for 22 carries and 101 yards on the day. Clarke scored twice, including a two-yard score, capping an 11 play- 76-yard drive, and giving the Mountaineers their final score of the night.

PLAY OF THE GAME

West Virginia cornerback Brandon Hogan picked off a Sunseri pass on a third down play on the opening drive of the game at the 54-yard line, then made an athletic return for 51-yards, helping to set up the Mountaineers first score of the game.

“I thought it was big,” said Hogan about the play. “You have to make big plays to win games. We made a couple big plays today, and it helped ignite our offense and give us what we needed to win.”

QUOTABLE

“I really can't put this game into words. I feel the worst for the seniors because I felt like I let them down.” - Pitt defensive lineman Chas Alecxih

“Obviously it's disappointing. We just didn't make enough plays. We didn't make enough plays on defense. We gave up way too many plays on offense from a turnover standpoint.” - Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt

UP NEXT

West Virginia will wrap up their season at home against Rutgers next Saturday at noon.  Pitt will travel to Cincinnati to face the Bearcats in their final game of the season.  Kickoff is to be announced.

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