Sept. 20, 2008
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PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Iowa Hawkeyes won the battle of the running backs Saturday at Heinz Field, but the Pitt Panthers — a team picked by many to win the Big East Conference — won the game, 21-20. Iowa will carry a 3-1 record into its Big Ten Conference season opener next Saturday in Iowa City. Pitt improves to 2-1.
“We simply didn’t take advantage of the opportunities we either made for ourselves or had given to us,” said UI Coach Kirk Ferentz of his team’s first loss of the season.
Iowa scored just three points off a recovered fumble and an interception.
“We also had problems tackling early. We had talked about the quarterback draw plays and expected to see them. We simply didn’t execute,” he added.
Pitt’s highly-touted LeSean McCoy gained 78 yards and scored what turned out to ber the game-winner. He also had a pair of receptions for 33 yards. Iowa’s Shonn Greene gained 147 yards on 23 carries and also had a pair of catches. He also scored once.
Iowa rotated quarterbacks in the first half and then gave the reins to Jake Christensen in the second half. Christensen finished with 12 completions for 124 yards. Ricky Stanzi completed seven passes for 79 yards.
“Jake had a better grasp of the game,” Ferentz said when asked about his decision to go with the junior signal-caller exclusively during the second half.
Pitt’s punter, Dave Brytus, may have been the game’s hidden hero. He averaged 47.8 yards on eight kicks including a 57-yarder that pinned Iowa inside its one-yard line with just more than two minutes to play.
Pitts’ McCoy scored the Panthers’ third touchdown of the day on a 27-yard run early in the fourth quarter to push Pitt’s lead to 21-17. Iowa cut the margin to one when Mossbrucker nailed a career-high 39-yard field goal at the 10:58 mark.
Iowa took a 17-14 lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter when Christensen scored from two yards out on a drive that was both diversified and a showcase for Greene. It with a 17-yard strike to Andy Brodell, included a pass interference call against a Pitt defender who was attempting to cover Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and included four carried by Iowa’s bruising running back.
Iowa got on the board first when the Hawkeyes converted a fumble by Pitt’s LeSean McCoy – on his first carry of the day – into a 27-yard field goal by Trent Mossbrucker.
Pitt countered when the Greg Cross, the Panthers’ shifty back-up quarterback, eluded three Hawkeyes on a 17-yard draw play that broke Iowa’s string of consecutive quarters without having allowed a touchdown at 12.
The home team stretched its lead to 14-3 on its next drive when Bill Stull, Pitt’s starting quarterback, scored on his own QB draw play from nine yards out with 12:34 left in the second quarter. The drive was kept alive by Pitt’s second success fourth down conversion.
That score marked the last time Pitt moved the ball on offense in the first half. The Panthers had three more possessions before intermission and ran three plays each time.
Iowa cut the Pitt lead to 14-10 after the Hawkeyes’ defense first three-and-out when Greene bulled forward on a six-yard run that came two plays after he had scampered around the right corner for 32 yards on a second-and-19 play near midfield.
Iowa missed an opportunity late in the quarter to put the game it a tie when Daniel Murray’s 35-yard field goal attempt sailed just outside the right upright. On the play before, Stanzi and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos almost blew up a Pitt blitz but Panther defender Eric Thatcher was able to break up what would have been an Iowa touchdown.
That drive was triggered by a 48-yard catch and run by Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki.
In the battle of the backs, Greene went into intermission with 89 yards – 22 more than the entire Pitt team – on 14 carries and a touchdown. Pitt’s McCoy had 18 yards on six carries and a pair of fumbles.
A limited number of tickets are available for Iowa’s 2008 Homecoming game against Northwestern next Saturday at historic Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa returns to historic Kinnick Stadium on the UI campus on Saturday for its 2008 Homecoming game against Northwestern. That contest will kick off shortly after 11 a.m. Iowa time. The television source will be announced on Sunday.
The game against the Wildcats marks the first time since the 2001 season that Iowa will open conference play at home. That season, the Hawkeyes defeated Penn State 24-18.