After an ugly 0-2 start to the season, Pitt coach Paul Chryst picked up his first win on Saturday with a 35-17 upset of the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Panthers took advantage of four first-half turnovers by the Hokies and promptly jumped out to a three-touchdown lead. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and the running back duo of Ray Graham and heralded freshman Rushel Shell marched the Panthers up and down the field, gashing Bud Foster's defense and keeping the Hokies offense off the field. It was the fourth straight Pitt upset of a ranked Hokies team.
Sunseri threw for nearly 200 yards in the first half, moving the offense and turning in one of the best performances of a tumultuous career. Sunseri and Graham marched the Panthers down the field on their first possession. The drive took less than three minutes and Graham capped it off with a 12-yard touchdown scamper for the quick lead. They would add another touchdown before the first quarter was out, when Sunseri lobbed one over the top of the defense to Devin Street for a 13-yard score.
While the Pitt offense was moving with ease, the Hokies compounded the trouble by turning it over on offense. With the Hokies driving on their first possession, quarterback Logan Thomas forced a quick slant into traffic. The ball got tipped in the air and picked off by Jared Holley inside the ten. Thomas would throw two more picks before the half was over, overthrowing his receivers and stalling out otherwise promising drives. But the most costly VT turnover was a Michael Holmes fumble. One play after Pitt missed a field goal attempt to go up 17, Holmes had the ball punched out inside the Hokies 20. Pitt pounced on it and Ray Graham would take it in two plays later for the 21-0 lead.
The Hokies attempted a second-half comeback with a couple big play quick strikes, but the first half deficit was too much. Kyshoen Jarrett finally broke through for Tech's first touchdown, taking a punt around the wall and down the right sideline for a 94-yard return. The Hokies added another touchdown in the third when Thomas hit big wideout Marcus Davis on a short pass to the outside. Davis turned to the sideline and took it the distance for an 85-yard touchdown, the longest touchdown pass in a decade for Virginia Tech.
But Sunseri and the Pitt offense responded each time the Hokies came up with a big play. He connected for two more touchdowns in the second half to keep the lead in double-digits. The first touchdown came on a wheel route to the right side, with Graham beating the linebacker for an 18-yard score. The Panthers would seal it on Sunseri's third touchdown of the day, a short six-yard pass to tight end Mike Shanahan in the back of the end zone. Moments earlier, Pitt had lined up for a field goal but Frank Beamer's special teams unit jumped offsides and gave the Panthers new life. Sunseri took advantage to drive the nail in the coffin two plays later.
In addition to Sunseri's big day, both Graham and Shell pounded the ball on the ground. Shell, a Western PA high school legend, finished with 157 yards on 23 carries for nearly a seven-yard average. Graham, who is still working his way back from an ACL injury last year, finished with 94 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, in addition to the touchdown through the air.
Box Score Hero: Tino Sunseri, who's had an up-and-down career, to say the least, finished the game 19 of 28 for 283 yards and three touchdowns. The ground game certainly helped, but Sunseri was firing strikes to his receivers all afternoon and threw just one interception, a ball that got away from him in the face of pressure.
Rankings Ramifications: Much like Arkansas last week, Virginia Tech will tumble down the rankings. It was a convincing win for the Panthers that could push the Hokies out of the Top 25.
But Did They Cover? Virginia Tech did not cover the 10-point spread.
Next Week's Schedule: The Hokies return to Lane Stadium, where they'll host Bowling Green. Pitt will host the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs.