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Big East: Panthers win league opener

©Associated Press
September 22, 2002

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh is experiencing the same problems it was at this time a year ago: an inconsistent offense that squanders scoring chances and still hasn't developed a rushing game.

No wonder Pitt coach Walt Harris must be giving thanks for the Panthers' softer-than-soft schedule so far.

Gerald Hayes scored on an 8-yard fumble return in the second quarter as Pittsburgh's defense picked up its slow-starting offense, and the Panthers went on to beat Rutgers 23-3 Saturday.

The Panthers overwhelmed the Scarlet Knights statistically, outgaining them 371-164 and limiting them to minus-3 yards rushing, only to stall repeatedly amid turnovers, penalties and wasted opportunities in the Big East opener for both.

Pitt is 3-1 for the third time in six seasons under Harris -- the Panthers were 1-3 last year -- but none of its victories has been impressive. They also beat Ohio 27-14 and UAB 26-20.

"I don't think anyone really played well," Harris said. "I know we can do better. We weren't sharp. We need some work."

One problem, he said, was perhaps adding too much to the offense so, he said, "We'll try to trim it back."

Pitt's offense got into the end zone when Rod Rutherford found Lamar Slade on a 31-yard touchdown pass that made it 17-0 in the third quarter, but otherwise was ineffective despite repeatedly enjoying excellent field position.

Before that, the Panthers started drives at the Rutgers' 33-, 45- and 14-yard lines in the first half but scored three points.

Pitt also had a first-and-goal at the Rutgers 1 early in the second quarter following Rutherford completions of 51 yards to Roosevelt Bynes and 25 to Larry Fitzgerald. But a false start penalty pushed Pitt back to the 6, and J.B. Gibboney subsequently kicked a 19-yard field goal to put Pitt up 3-0.

Hayes' touchdown came on Rutgers' first fumble of the season. On first-and-10 from the Rutgers 25, quarterback Ted Trump fumbled when hit by Claude Harriott and the ball started bouncing toward the goal line. Hayes picked it up at the 8 and carried it in to score.

"Scoop and score, scoop and score -- it's something we talk about in practice, something we want to do in games," defensive back Torrie Cox said. "We need to be making big plays."

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