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December 1, 2012

Pitt beats South Florida with stingy defense

TAMPA, Fla. - With playmaking defense and enough offense to stay ahead, Pitt beat South Florida 27-3 on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.

While the Panthers put up 27 points on the Bulls, they relied far more on the defense to take the game. Pitt's defense forced three turnovers on South Florida's first three possessions of the game and forced the Bulls to punt on each of their three subsequent drives.

Redshirt junior safety Jason Hendricks started the defensive show with an interception on USF's first drive, and redshirt sophomore linebacker Todd Thomas followed that with a pick of his own. Redshirt senior defensive end Shayne Hale produced the third turnover when he forced and then recovered a fumble by USF quarterback Matt Floyd.

Thomas' interception was particularly helpful for Pitt, as it came at an opportune time. South Florida had started its second drive of the game at Pitt's 39 after a long kickoff return, and the Bulls drove to the Pitt 5. On third-and-goal from the 5, Floyd attempted a pass but Thomas stepped in front of the receiver and made the pick.

But while the defense was busy holding South Florida to 55 yards of total offense and just four first downs in the first half, Pitt's offense wasn't producing much at all. The Panthers only scored 10 points off the three turnovers, with a touchdown after the first interception and a field goal after Hale's fumble recovery bookending Thomas' interception, which was wasted when Tino Sunseri took a 29-yard sack on second-and-5 at the USF 37.

Still Pitt took a 13-0 lead into halftime, with a Ray Graham touchdown run and two field goals from Kevin Harper.

The offense started the second half with great field position after Ronald Jones, filling in for a suspended Cameron Saddler, logged a 39-yard punt return, and Graham converted the drive with another one-yard touchdown run.

Three plays later, K'Waun Williams gave the ball back to the offense with Pitt's third interception of the game. Tino Sunseri then completed four-of-five passes for 50 yards, including a one-yard scoring pass to J.P. Holtz.

South Florida added a field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 24.

Graham finished with 93 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, while Sunseri competed 19-of-25 passes for 211 yards and a score. Sunseri has now thrown 270 consecutive passes without an interception.

Pitt's defense held South Florida to 117 yards of total offense, including just eight rushing yards.

With the win, Pitt finished the 2012 regular season at 6-6 and eligible to go to a bowl for the fifth consecutive season.

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