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November 10, 2012

Pitt suffers sixth loss of the season Fri. night

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Six days after taking then-No. 3 Notre Dame to triple-overtime, the Pitt football team lined up against a 3-6 Connecticut team that hadn't recorded a Big East win in four tries this season.

But rather than build on last week's gritty performance at Notre Dame, the Panthers showed up Friday night and made the lowly Huskies look like a well-oiled offensive juggernaut. At the very least, Connecticut looked like a powerhouse while building a 24-0 lead in the first half, and that total was more than enough as the Huskies beat the Panthers 24-17.

With the loss, Pitt drops to 4-6 overall and 1-4 in the Big East. With two games remaining on the 2012 schedule, the Panthers need to run the table to ensure bowl eligibility.

"Obviously we're disappointed with the outcome of the game," Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said after the game. "Give UConn credit; they made some plays."

Connecticut (4-6, 1-4) entered the game averaging 16.6 points per game, but the Huskies scored all 24 points in the first half alone. The Pitt defense's hemorrhaging began at the very start of the game, as the home team drove 75 yards on 11 plays to score an opening touchdown. Connecticut added to that advantage with a field goal in the first quarter, but the game blew up on Pitt in the second quarter when Huskies receiver Nick Williams returned a Matt Yoklic punt 80 yards for a touchdown.

Connecticut added on again at the end of the second half with a six-play, 61-yard drive that lasted a little more than two minutes and sent the teams to halftime with Huskies leading the Panthers 24-0.

While Connecticut's offense was running wild, Pitt couldn't move the ball at all. The Panthers gained a total of 121 yards of offense in the first half, gained just six first downs, and only converted two-of-seven third downs.

Pitt moved the ball slightly better to open the second half, driving 51 yards and landing a field goal to cut the lead to 24-3, and the Panthers finally reached the end zone two drives later when a couple of 20-yard passes from Tino Sunseri to Devin Street set up an 11-yard Drew Carswell touchdown reception.

Pitt couldn't capitalize when the defense forced a three-and-out after the touchdown, but the offense did take advantage after Jarred Holley intercepted Connecticut quarterback Chandler Whitmer in the end zone. Following the turnover, the offense drove 80 yards in nine plays and took just 2:11 off the clock before Sunseri hooked up with Mike Shanahan for an 18-yard touchdown that cut the lead to seven points.

Connecticut took over on its own 25 with 2:46 on the clock, and the Panthers allowed just three rushing yards on the first two plays while using the team's final two timeouts to preserve the clock. But linebacker Shane Gordon couldn't finish a sack on third down, and the Huskies moved the chains to seal the victory.

"They came out ready to play," senior running back Ray Graham said. "I'm not saying we forgot about them or were putting them to the side or anything, but they came out to play and they made plays. Give credit to Connecticut.

"Any given Saturday, if a team comes ready to play and you're not ready to play, you can lose."

Sunseri finished with 302 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-34 passing. Street caught six passes for 76 yards, while Shanahan had 79 yards and a score on three receptions and Carswell had 83 yards and a touchdown on five catches.

Pitt's running game never got rolling. Graham had 41 yards on 15 carries and Rushel Shell gained 23 yards on six carries. For Connnecticut, Lyle McCombs rushed 29 times for 125 yards and a touchdown.

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