PITTSBURGH -- John White ran for 171 yards and Coleman Petersen kicked four field goals in the tricky Heinz Field winds to lead Utah by reeling Pittsburgh 26-14 on Saturday.
The Utes (3-3) snapped a two-game losing streak behind the legs of White and Petersen and an impressive defensive effort to improve to 9-0 all-time against current members of the Big East.
Petersen, who'd made four field goals all year coming in, converted kicks of 23, 34, 39 and 45 yards in winds that gusted over 30 mph.
Utah defensive end Derrick Shelby returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown with 1:12 to go as the Utes sent Pitt (3-4) to its second straight loss.
Pitt running back Ray Graham managed a season-low 46 yards, more than 100 yards below his average.
"We had a game plan and believed in it," Shelby said. "We knew we had to tackle
Ray Graham and it looks like we did that."
The injury-riddled Utes, playing without leading receiver DeVonte Christopher and quarterback Jordan Wynn, won by holding onto the ball, something they failed to do in losses to Washington and Arizona State when they turned it over a combined 10 times.
Quarterback Jon Hays completed 14 of 23 passes 127 yards and a score without throwing an interception, though the game belonged to White, Petersen and Utah's front seven.
White carried the ball 35 times, allowing Utah to hold the ball for nearly 38 minutes. Though the Utes had trouble finishing drives, Petersen found a way to deal with the swirling winds that ruffled officials' pants and made throwing the ball nearly impossible.
Not that Sunseri or Anderson had time to throw. Pitt came in allowing 28 sacks on the season, easily the highest in the country.
Pitt coach Todd Graham shuffled the line in hopes of providing some protection, moving Matt Rotheram to right tackle and Jordan Gibbs to center.
It didn't work. Sunseri and Anderson spent most of the day trying to scramble out of danger. When they did they combined to complete 9 of 30 passes for 50 yards.
Their inability to get anything going allowed the Utes to focus on Ray Graham, who came in averaging nearly 150 yards a game and was off to the best six-game start in the program's history.
"It kind of got frustrating out there because everywhere I
went, somebody was there," Graham said. "But we've got great
players on this team, and they're going to do their job. When I
can't execute, somebody else is going to come in to do something."
There were no holes to be had this time as the "high octane" offense Todd Graham promised when he took over in January fizzled for the second straight game.
"It was embarrassing," he said. "We didn't execute
anything in the passing game at all."
Utah's line wasn't much better than Pitt's, giving up seven sacks, but the Utes were able to move the ball enough to put Petersen in position to convert. He gave Utah the lead with a 39-yard kick in the third quarter then added a career-long 45 yarder in the fourth quarter to push Utah's lead to 19-14.
The Panthers moved to the Utah 35 midway through the fourth quarter but Anderson threw incomplete on fourth down. It would be Pitt's last chance. Anderson was intercepted twice in the final minutes, including a botched screen pass to Ray Graham that allowed Shelby picked off and hustled down the sideline for the game-sealing touchdown with 1:12 to play.
Even with the offense sputtering the Panthers took a 14-13 halftime lead behind a pair of spectacular special teams plays.
Buddy Jackson returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, bouncing off two Utah tacklers at the Pitt 15 before sprinting to the outside and racing down the sideline for a score.
The unit needed just four plays to strike again. The Pitt defense forced a three-and-out and Andrew Taglianetti blocked Nick Marsh's punt. Antwuan Reed picked up the loose ball at the 10 and strolled into the end zone to put Pitt up 14-3, the first punt block for a score by the Panthers since 1995.
"Obviously, when you score a touchdown on defense or special
teams, it can be a big momentum shift for that team," Taglianetti
said. "But we still had a tough time."
This nonconference game has no bearing on Pitt's hopes of
winning the Big East, but with the season more than halfway gone,
the Panthers know they're running out of time.
"We have to come back," Taglianetti said. "We have to bounce
back. We've still got five conference games remaining, and those
are the big ones."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.