7:00 PM ET, September 11, 2004
Heinz Field, PITTSBURGH, PA
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh's first game in the post-Larry Fitzgerald era was a near-flop, as a rebuilt offense did little against underdog Ohio and the Panthers' key touchdowns in a 24-3 victory Saturday night resulted from a blocked punt and an interception.
Tyler Palko looked nervous in his debut as Pitt's quarterback replacement for Rod Rutherford, completing only six passes in an offense that effectively generated only 10 points against one of Division I-A's weakest teams.
Walt Harris, Pitt's eighth-year coach, runs the offense, and he certainly couldn't like what he saw of it -- which, after Josh Cummings' 35-yard field goal in the second quarter, wasn't much. Until Palko's 43-yard run late in the game led to his 7-yard scoring pass to Greg Lee, Palko's combined rushing and passing was close to minus yardage.
Palko, a sophomore, finished 6 of 19 for 49 yards and an interception as Pitt (1-0) was outgained 290-217. Raymond Kirkley's 100 yards rushing representing much of the Panthers' production.
Pitt's two biggest plays were generated by special teams and the defense. Keith Malley blocked Matthew Miller's punt late in the second quarter, with Brian Bennett returning it 37 yards to the Bobcats' 2. Tim Murphy scored from the 1 a play later to make it 10-3.
Palko, Fitzgerald's former roommate, was intercepted early in the third quarter, but Malcolm Postell stepped in front of Ohio quarterback Ryan Hawk's pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown. After that, two desultory offenses were occasionally booed by the crowd of 46,401.
Hawk, who was Steelers first-round draft pick Ben Roethlisberger's roommate at Miami (Ohio) before transferring to Ohio (1-1), was lifted after going 19 of 41 for 169 yards and two interceptions.
Ohio tried to get back in it when Dennis Cukwuemeka fooled the Panthers by alertly fielding a punt the Panthers were trying to down and apparently returning it 85 yards for a touchdown late in the third. But the play was negated by Chip Cox's block to the back penalty, and Ohio didn't threaten again.
Ohio (1-1), coming off a 1-10 season, outgained Pittsburgh 195-90 in the first half, a sign of how much work the rebuilding Panthers (1-0) must do following Fitzgerald's departure. The Heisman Trophy runner-up caught 34 touchdown passes in two seasons, at least one in a record 18 consecutive games, before becoming the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft.
Harris likes to refer to Pitt as Wide Receiver U., but until Lee's catch with less than three minutes left, no receiver had more than one reception. Pitt has produced two of the last four Biletnikoff award winners as college football's top receiver, Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant.
It was Pitt's second uninspiring performance in a season opener against Ohio in three seasons. In 2002, Rod Rutherford threw three interceptions in his first start, an unimpressive 27-14 victory.
Pitt was supposed to open Monday at South Florida, but the game was postponed by Hurricane Frances.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||2-17||2-15|
|4th Down Conversions||0-2||0-0|
|FG||3:28||JOSH CUMMINGS 35 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 36 yards.
|FG||5:32||BROOKS ROSSMAN 27 YD FG|
Drive info: 8 plays, 68 yards.
|TD||2:45||TIM MURPHY 1 YD RUN (JOSH CUMMINGS KICK)|
Drive info: 2 plays, 39 yards.
|TD||9:32||MALCOLM POSTELL 42 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (JOSH CUMMINGS KICK)||3||17|
|TD||2:46||GREG LEE 7 YD PASS FROM TYLER PALKO (JOSH CUMMINGS KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 67 yards.