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
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
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
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.