Panther fans who expected a cakewalk against FBS opponent Youngstown State would have their parade rained on literally in more ways than one.
The visiting Penguins surprised the Heinz Field crowd of just over 40,000 with a 31-17 victory Saturday evening.
The game was delayed half an hour due to lightning and some hard rain and perhaps it would have been in Pittsburgh’s best interest to delay the game.
While the numbers look fairly comparable, there was one major difference in this game and that was defense.
The bottom line is that the Panthers defense stayed on the field when the Penguins defense got to relax a little bit. This is evidenced by third-down conversions. The Penguins went 11-for-16 on third down.
“I thought their offensive game plan was pretty good,” defensive back Andrew Taglianetti said. “They got the ball to the quarterback’s hand quickly, so it took away from Aaron Donald and our defensive line. You work so hard on first and second down and third down would come up and they were able to convert. We’ve got a little work to do on third down coverages.”
Perhaps the biggest defensive blunder of the game occurred early in the third quarter. The Panthers were able to make a rare third down stop and the Penguins decided to go for it on fourth down.
The result was a handoff to running back Jamaine Cook. But instead of running though, Cook caught the Panthers off guard by dropping back to pass. The pass to Will Shaw was right on the money and was a 23-yard touchdown to give Youngstown State a 21-10 lead.
Tino Sunseri had a successful first half, throwing for 140 yards and making a key third-down connection with Mike Shanahan who had six receptions for 54 yards in the first half.
Sunseri would fade in the second half as the defense did not give him many opportunities.
Ray Graham golden in limited opportunities
Another big surprise was running back Ray Graham. He was very much a game time decision but it appeared that he would not dress in the game. In a surprise move, he did go – but with limitations.
“He had 14 carries. We were kind of shooting for 10 to 15 [carries],” Head Coach Paul Chryst said. “I love the competitiveness of Ray, he was good, but it was right around what we were hoping to get.”
While Graham did have a tough go of it early, he showed signs of his old self with a 22-yard run in which he switched fields. Isaac Bennett saw some playing time as well.
Not so easy Street
Wide receiver Devin Street had a rough game as he dropped a slightly overthrown deep pass that would have been an easy touchdown. Couple that with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that cost the team 15 yards and a late game fumble that sealed Pitt’s fate and it was a game to forget.
Six Panthers suspended
The following Panthers did not play in this game: Ronald Jones, Russel Shell, Chris Davis, Tyrone Ezell, Shayne Hale and Anthony Gonzalez.
The reason was for disciplinary purposes.
“Before the game we had six players who were suspended due to disciplinary actions and that is one area in this program that will not be sacrificed and that we’ll hold guys accountable for,” Chryst said.
This was the only comment Chryst made on the situation. It is unknown if these six players would be available to play Thursday at Cincinnati.
Hero: I’ll give it to Mike Shanahan. He was rather quiet last year but was a third down threat and made the most receptions on the team.
Hero No. 2: I’ll give it to the fans. Supporting the Panthers in rain, lightning and delays was impressive.
Goat: The entire Panthers defense deserves a goat. They allowed too many first downs and allowed quarterback Kurt Hess to be a double threat.
Pitt-YSU Scoring 9/1/12
YSU: Stubbs 27 yard pass from Hess (David Brown kick is good) 7-0 8:25
Pitt: Bennett 4 yard run (Kevin Harper kick is good) 7-7 2:47
YSU: Shaw 14 yard pass from Hess (Brown kick is good) 14-7 10:14
Pitt: Harper 33 yard field goal 14-10 6:13
YSU: Shaw 21 yard pass from Cook (Brown kick is good) 21-10 12:07
YSU: Stubbs 13 yard run (Brown kick is good) 28-10 12:21
Pitt: Sunseri 35 yard pass to Brinson (Harper kick is good) 28-17 9:35
YSU: Brown 25 yard field goal 31-17 3:02
Up next: The Panthers travel to Cincinnati Thursday to play the Bearcats. This game will be broadcast at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Last year an Isiah Pead-led Bearcats team was able to defeat the Panthers.