Pitt pounds Gardner-Webb, 55-10
Pitt's Ray Graham breaks for a touchdown run in the first quarter against Gardner-Webb.
Pitt's Mike Shanahan pushes away Gardner-Webb's Drew White in the second quarter.
Pitt fans dance in the stands at Heinz Field.
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There was no letdown, no slow start, no hangover from the upset victory against Virginia Tech the week before as Pitt took care of business against Gardner-Webb Saturday, pounding the overmatched Runnin' Bulldogs, 55-10.
Pitt (2-2) dominated in all facets, outgaining Gardner-Webb, 626-127. It was Pitt's biggest output since it put up 645 yards in a double-overtime game against Rutgers in 1997 and most in regulation since a win against Eastern Michigan in '95.
"We didn't get too high, we didn't get too low," receiver Devin Street said. "We knew what we had to do and we just came out here and played."
Quarterback Tino Sunseri had his second consecutive strong game. After passing for 278 yards against Virginia Tech last week, Sunseri completed 18 of 24 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns against the Runnin' Bulldogs (0-4).
"He's just a great quarterback," Street said. "If he has time back there, he'll definitely make the plays."
Street and fellow seniors Cam Saddler and Mike Shanahan each had five catches. Shanahan had two touchdowns, and Street added one. The Panthers added 229 yards on the ground as running backs Ray Graham, Isaac Bennett and Rushel Shell all scored touchdowns.
"Our offense, we can be deadly because we have a lot of weapons," Graham said.
Gardner-Webb showed some signs of offensive life early, reaching the Pitt 21 on its second drive before Trever Austin missed a 40-yard field goal.
On the next play, Graham took a handoff up the middle for a 78-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 Pitt lead with 3:23 to play in the first quarter.
"It was a big, wide hole," Graham said. "It was a big hole for me to go through. Nobody could've missed that."
The Panthers' next four drives started inside the Gardner-Webb 35, thanks largely to poor punting by Gardner-Webb's Bo Lindsey, and two of those drives ended in Kevin Harper field-goal attempts -- one made, one missed. The other two found the end zone.
Early in the second quarter, freshman running back Rushel Shell took a handoff from the 1 and plunged for his first career touchdown. On the Panthers' next possession, Sunseri found Street open in the end zone on the first play for a 34-yard touchdown pass and Pitt's second one-play scoring drive of the game.
With just over a minute before halftime, Gardner-Webb's Kamar Morrison picked up a Graham fumble and returned it 65 yards to make it 24-10.
Pitt answered right back with a drive to close out the half. With five seconds left and the ball on the Gardner-Webb 5, coach Paul Chryst elected to kick a field goal. Against Cincinnati less than two weeks ago, Pitt tried to run a quick pass in a similar situation, but Sunseri threw it out of the end zone as time ran out.
Pitt ripped off four unanswered touchdowns and held Gardner-Webb to 54 total offensive yards in the second half.
The Panthers' big-play ability showed up again when Sunseri found Shanahan for a 77-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. Street threw a crushing block that sprung Shanahan for the score.
"I was kind of tired going into that play, but, once Devin threw that block for me, I knew I had to score," Shanahan said.
Now, Pitt has a week off before heading to Syracuse for a Friday night Big East game.
Chryst said he was glad to head into the off week with some positive momentum, a far cry from where the Panthers were two weeks ago.
"We have the bye week coming up and we wanted to win going into the bye and we accomplished that," Chryst said. "It will give us an opportunity to get some guys healthy. We've got to maximize the opportunity we have this week."
NOTES -- Pitt linebacker Dan Mason saw action late in the game, his first since he sustained a serious leg injury Sept. 23, 2010, against Miami. ... Freshman defensive tackle Darryl Render got his first career start Saturday in place of injured Aaron Donald and made three tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
First Published September 23, 2012 12:00 am