Earlier this week, Pitt coach Paul Chryst made his team an offer. Beat Temple, and he would put the players' names back on their jerseys.
Pitt dismantled the Owls, 47-17, Saturday at Heinz Field, ensuring that the names will be back next weekend when the Panthers visit Notre Dame.
The Panthers (4-4, 1-3 Big East) jumped to a 31-7 halftime lead and cruised to their first Big East win this season while evening their overall record at .500.
After sputtering last week in Buffalo, the offense fired on all cylinders Saturday. Pitt amassed 528 total offensive yards, and the 47 points the Panthers scored were their most against a Division I-A opponent since they scored 54 against Buffalo in 2009.
"I feel like what we have to keep doing each week is keep growing as an offense," Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "What wins games is not turning the ball over, it's getting first downs after first downs and grinding it out."
Sunseri completed 20 of 28 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't throw any interceptions, his fifth consecutive game with no picks.
"I think it's just him being a great quarterback this year," center Ryan Turnley said. "He's making all the right decisions, and, whenever you do that, you're going to keep the ball away from the other team."
It looked like more trouble for Pitt's offense when the Owls forced a punt on Pitt's first drive, but returner Anthony Robey muffed the punt, and Eric Williams recovered for the Panthers.
Seven plays later, Rushel Shell plunged into the end zone for a 7-0 Pitt lead.
The Panthers kept rolling. On their next series, Sunseri connected with freshman tight end J.P. Holtz for an 18-yard touchdown, the first of Holtz's career.
The Owls got a touchdown back after taking advantage of good field position after a kickoff return, but the rest of the half was all Pitt.
Leading, 24-7, with 1:09 left, the Panthers got the ball at their 38. Rather than run out the clock and take that lead into halftime, Chryst elected to go for another touchdown.
After lofting a beautiful corner route to Devin Street to put the Panthers in position, Sunseri found running back Ray Graham in the flat for a 4-yard touchdown pass with one second left on the clock. That gave the Panthers a 31-7 lead at the break.
"[Chryst] trusted us, and that's a big part of an offense," Street said. "With Tino and everyone, to see him show confidence in us is great."
In the second half, Pitt relied heavily on its running game to finish off the clock. Sunseri threw nine passes in the second half, and the Panthers ran the ball 16 times.
Graham finished with 109 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, and Shell chipped in 79 yards on 12 rushes. After being deemed "inconsistent" by Chryst earlier this week, Pitt's rushing attack showed up.
The highlight came early in the fourth quarter when Graham broke off a 35-yard run that featured the cuts and jukes he was known for before his ACL was torn last season. That put the ball on the Temple 2, and Graham punched it in on the next play.
"I thought today he cut it loose a little bit," Chryst said of Graham. "To me, that is one of the signs that a guy is trusting [his knee]. He was calling for the ball. I liked his whole approach."
On defense, Pitt prevented Temple's rushing attack from getting into a rhythm, and the Owls finished with 129 yards (3.2 yards per carry).
Pitt's defense also swung the momentum early in the fourth quarter when cornerback Lafayette Pitts stripped the ball from Temple receiver Deon Miller to give the Panthers the ball at the Temple 37.
"When you have a ball and a guy can just reach for it and take the ball, that's just disappointing," Temple coach Steve Addazio said. "The guy just went in and literally ripped the ball [out]."
Two plays later, Graham found the end zone to give the Panthers a 40-17 lead and end any hope of a Temple comeback.
Sam Werner: email@example.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published October 28, 2012 4:00 AM