West Virgina vs. Pittsburgh: The Backyard Brawl Was More of a Scuffle
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Although Pittsburgh controlled the clock, the yardage and the momentum for most of the first half, the one thing they couldn't control was the football.
The Panthers came into this year's Backyard Brawl three-point favorites, but early in their first possession, Tino Sunseri threw a pick to Brandon Hogan, who returned the ball 53 yards to the West Virgina two yard line. To no one's surprise, it was Ryan Clarke on the next play putting West Virginia on the board.
Pitt seemed unshaken and answered back late in the first quarter with an eight-play drive to tie the game 7-7.
A few unanswered drives and another Pitt turnover put West Virginia in good field position. Ray Graham took a series of hits from the highly-ranked West Virginia defense, coughing up a fumble that was recovered by none other than Brandon Hogan, Friday's undeniable "Man on Fire". Two plays later it was Noel Devine with a 48 yard run to the two yard line.
A Pitt turnover ... West Virginia in the red zone. This eerily familiar scenario soon became the theme of the day. This time it was a two-yard pass to Will Johnson that put WVU back in the lead, 14-7.
Going into halftime, things seemed to be going in West Virgina's favor, but was it because they were playing lights-out or was Pitt just not firing on all cylinders? The numbers seemed to point to the latter.
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West Virginia's defense had given up 8 of 12 on 3rd down. Poor numbers for a team that had given up only 2 of 13 against Louisville a week before and 0 of 12 against Cincinnati the prior week.
At the start of the second half, West Virginia's offense finally got a chance to shine on their own, when Geno Smith found Tavon Austin for a 71-yard catch and run for a touchdown that furthered WVU's lead.
After a quick drive that ended in a Pittsburgh field goal, West Virginia scored on another Tavon Austin reception, this time after breaking coverage in the corner of the end zone, putting West Virginia up 28-10.
Pittsburgh gave up the ball on downs twice in the second half and another fumble, this time on a mishandled snap by Sunseri well into West Virginia territory, positioned West Virginia for yet another scoring drive. WVU handled the clock for over five minutes and it was Ryan Clarke, again from the two, to extend the lead, 35-10.
West Virgina would again find themselves on the Pittsburgh two yard line, in position to make it a 32-point victory, but a holding penalty would push them back to the 12 yard line. A few stopped runs up-the-middle later and the final seconds fell off the clock.
The final score: 35-10.
The nationally televised rivalry was tamer than usual. Sure there were a few pushes and shoves after the whistle and I'm sure a few unkind words were shared, but what's usually a low-scoring grudge match ended up a relatively civil affair. West Virginia walked away scoring more points than they had since 2006.
Geno Smith only attempted twelve passes on the day, completing nine. Tavon Austin caught two of those for a total of 93 yards, while Jock Sanders would take four for a total of 70 yards. Sanders is now the all-time leading receiver at West Virginia with 195 career receptions.
Shawne Alston, the young man on the top of my "ones to watch" list, led the day in rushing for West Virginia with 71 yards on 16 carries. Ryan Clarke tallied up 28 yards and 2 touchdowns on six carries.
The Pitt Panthers head to Cincinnati next week for their season finale, while West Virginia will welcome the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers to Morgantown. Should Pittsburgh lose, UConn will still have to lose against Cincinnati and USF for WVU to seal a BCS bowl berth.
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