12:30 PM ET, September 13, 2003
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh has turned two dominating quarters into two easy victories. What bothers the Panthers (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 11 AP) is they've yet to play a complete game against not-so-challenging opposition.
Larry Fitzgerald, making a series of tough catches in double coverage, caught scoring passes of 37 and 26 yards. He already has five touchdowns as Pitt (2-0) has outscored two Mid-American Conference opponents by a combined 85-24.
Pittsburgh opened a 14-0 lead, only to have Ball State backup quarterback Talmadge Hill hook up with Dante Ridgeway on scoring pass plays of 10 and 18 yards in a span of 2:25 of the second quarter to tie it at halftime.
"We took this team seriously, but on both sides of the ball we weren't focused," Miree said. "We didn't come out in the first half the way we can."
A Pitt offense that looked lethargic and disinterested at times after seizing the two-touchdown lead was much sharper in the third quarter, putting together three touchdown drives in just over nine minutes.
"Coach got on us real good," Pitt receiver Princell Brockenbrough said, referring to coach Walt Harris' halftime talk.
Harris downplayed that, saying, "I'm not one for talking. It's more about executing. They put pressure on us and we weren't sharp. I'll take responsibility for it and we'll get it right. I know we're better than that."
Harris repeatedly emphasized that theme, saying the Panthers must start playing more consistently for longer stretches. They relied mostly on Rutherford's four touchdown passes in the second quarter to beat Kent State 43-3 in their opener.
"I need to do a better job and I need to get it right, because we've got a good team here," Harris said.
Rutherford needed just six plays to drive the Panthers 74 yards following the second half kickoff, going 5-for-5 on a drive finished off by his 27-yard scoring pass to Brockenbrough.
After Ball State went three-and-out, Rutherford -- bigger than six of Ball State's defensive starters at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds -- got a 51-yard drive started with a 12-yard bootleg. He then found Miree for 18 yards ahead of Miree's 5-yard scoring run.
"We started the third quarter like we haven't played the game," Ball State coach Brady Hoke said.
The Panthers wrapped up the 21-point third quarter when Rutherford hit Fitzgerald in the right front corner of the end zone on a 26-yard scoring pass. Fitzgerald gave cornerback Quintin Manley a shove at the goal line to gain some separation, but wasn't called for pass interference.
"I went up and grabbed the ball. I never pushed off. I try to play the game by the rules," Fitzgerald said. "Unfortunately, he fell down and I was able to make the catch."
Fitzgerald caught seven passes for 124 yards, giving him 13 catches for 247 yards and five touchdowns in two games. He caught 12 touchdowns passes as a freshman last season.
Rutherford, held out of the first quarter against Kent State for disciplinary reasons, has thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions in five quarters.
Rutherford didn't return after Miree's 3-yard scoring run on the first play of the quarter and finished 19-of-31 for 285 yards. He was 10-of-11 for 150 yards in the third quarter.
Miree added 73 yards against a Ball State defense that ranked No. 100 among the 117 Division I-A teams in rushing defense, including a 24-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Hill, starting for injured regular Andy Roesch, threw for a third touchdown against mostly backup Pitt defenders late in the game. Hill was 19-of-30 for 192 yards and no interceptions in a game in which neither team had a turnover.
"When we were tied at 14, we needed to keep up the momentum," Hill said. "After the first half, we wanted to come out and do the same thing in the second half."
Pittsburgh improved to 21-0 against Mid-American Conference teams, with a game at Toledo upcoming next week. Ball State still hasn't beaten a team from one of six major Division I-A conferences since upgrading to major college status in the early 1970s. The Cardinals have lost eight of their last 11 games against major conference schools by 21 or more points, including last week's 35-7 loss at home to Missouri.