Pitt toasts Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The Pitt football team could have produced Texas-sized excuses going into Saturday’s meeting with Texas A&M at Kyle Field.
The Panthers were coming off a devastating loss at Toledo a week earlier, they were without starting tailback Brandon Miree due to a calf injury, they lost their top two defenders for the second half and they were playing in one of the most hostile environments in college football.
So, what did they do?
They went out and put a smacking on Texas A&M in the oppressive heat of the southwest, to the tune of 37-26 in front of 79,116.
This game was all about reserves and resolve, about regrouping and redemption. The 17th-ranked Panthers not only improved their record to 3-1 but also redirected a season that was headed downward following a four-point loss to Mid-American Conference member Toledo.
“I was disgusted by what happened last week,” sophomore free safety Tez Morris said. “I didn’t even watch TV.”
Pitt, which returns to the field Oct. 11 to play host to Notre Dame, overcame the losses of eight key contributors to injury and a 13-9 halftime deficit to defeat a Big 12 foe on the road for the first time in 23 years.
The Panthers got three touchdown receptions from sophomore wideout Larry Fitzgerald, one each from receiver Princell Brockenbrough and fullback Lousaka Polite, a 45-yard field goal by David Abdul and five touchdown passes from senior quarterback Rod Rutherford, who went 14 of 28 for 283 yards with an interception.
Fitzgerald had seven catches for 135 yards as he continued his Heisman Trophy campaign in front of former winner Tony Dorsett (Pitt, class of 1976).
All of a sudden, Pitt finds itself in solid position after a tumultuous week filled with question marks and uncertainty leading to this meeting with Texas A&M (2-2).
“A lot of people jumped off the bandwagon,” said impassioned coach Walt Harris. “A lot of people didn’t believe in us. But you know what, those people don’t matter. The only people who matter are the guys in that locker room, and the fans who came and the fans who listened.”
Harris endured scrutiny last week because his offense could not hold the ball for extended periods and the defense got torched for big chunks of yardage. Against Texas A&M, the defense still had its struggles, allowing 544 yards, but the offense put things together, particularly at the outset of the second half when it scored on back-to-back 80-yard drives and ran for 195 yards against a defense that was allowing 197.2 per game.
Sophomore tailback Jawan Walker made his first career start for Miree, who was deemed unable to play at the end of the week.
“I found out about it at the pre-game meal this morning,” Walker said.
The product of Erie Cathedral Prep finished with 87 yards on 20 carries and was pivotal in the two 80-yard drives, reeling off a 19-yard run on the first and contributing a total of 40 on the second. He teamed with Polite in helping the Panthers control the ball for more than 18 minutes in the final two quarters.
Pitt, which forced four turnovers while committing only one, outscored Texas A&M 21-0 in the third quarter and essentially put the game away, taking a 30-13 lead into the fourth quarter. Linebacker Malcolm Postell’s interception late in the third quarter led to a 49-yard score by Fitzgerald that stretched the margin to 37-20.
The Panthers accomplished all of these things even though senior middle linebacker Lewis Moore left the game with an undisclosed injury in the second quarter and senior defensive end Claude Harriott went out with a right ankle sprain to start the third. True freshman Clint Session had 17 tackles in place of Moore.
“I think we got more physical in the second half,” said Harris, whose team got a break in the fourth quarter when speedy Texas A & M quarterback Reggie McNeal went out with a leg injury. “Our linemen brought it. We had better down and distances than we did a week ago and we were able to make some plays on offense.”