PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Tyler Palko, finally looking comfortable in an offense redesigned by new coach Dave Wannstedt to emphasize the run, threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as Pitt overcame a slow start and two early mistakes to beat South Florida 31-17 on Saturday in the Bulls' first Big East road game.
Pitt (3-4, 2-1 in Big East), winning consecutive games for the first time under Wannstedt, fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter following a blocked punt and a fumble by Palko, only to surge back with three touchdowns in a six-minute span in the second quarter as the Bulls (3-3, 1-1) again couldn't contain Palko.
Palko, who threw for 411 yards and five touchdowns in a 43-14 rout of South Florida in Tampa last season, found Greg Lee on a 69-yard scoring pass play on the opening play of the second quarter and then hit Lee again for 41 yards to the Bulls' 3 following
a Darrelle Revis fumble recovery. Palko then threw a 3-yard scoring pass to fullback Tim Murphy to make it 14-10.
Lee settled for three catches for 106 yards after making eight receptions for 153 yards against South Florida last season.
Another South Florida fumble, this one by quarterback Pat Julmiste, was recovered by J.J. Horne and returned eight yards to the Bulls 12, and Palko later ran it in from a yard out to put the Panthers up 21-10 with nearly nine minutes left in the second quarter.
South Florida got back to 21-17 on a Jumiste-to-Andre Hall scoring pass play of 76 yards, but another fumble by a Bulls quarterback, this time by backup Courtney Denson, was returned by Bernard "Josh" Lay to the Bulls' 8. Palko then found tight end
Darrell Strong on an 8-yard TD pass late in the third quarter.
Palko, whose statistics have dropped off appreciably following the changeover from former coach Walt Harris' quarterback-friendly West Coast offense to Wannstedt's more traditional, run-heavy system, finished 15-of-21 for 203 yards and no interceptions. He came into the game with 1,366 yards passing -- barely one-third the
3,067 yards he finished with last season.
Josh Cummings also kicked a 27-yard field goal, giving him four field goals in two games after missing two games to have knee surgery. He kicked three last week in a 38-20 win over Cincinnati.
Hall, the Big East's leading rusher coming into the game with 519 yards in five games, had a combined 210 yards with 19 carries for 79 yards and a game-high 131 yards on seven receptions. But his big game couldn't prevent South Florida's second loss in a row
since the Bulls upset then-No. 9 Louisville 45-14 on Sept. 24.
Freshman LaRod Stephens-Howling led Pitt with 91 yards on 14 carries, with most of his yardage coming in the second half as the Panthers mostly kept the ball on the ground to preserve their lead.
The game was South Florida's first in Pittsburgh since Sept. 8, 2001, when a neophyte Bulls program scored its first victory over an established Division I-A team by surprising Pitt 35-26, one of the biggest upset losses in Pitt history.