Coach Kyle Whittingham said it best in the press conference “We should have won that game by two or three touchdowns.” He’s right, they should have. The Utes dominated both sides of the ball, winning the total yardage battle by 139 yards, but three untimely turnovers and a blocked kick turned a would be easy win into a sloppy nail biter.
Led by a stout defense that shut down Heisman Trophy candidate Dion Lewis limiting him to only 75 yards on 25 carries, a career low rushing total, the Utes pulled out a dramatic overtime victory behind a Brian Blechen interception and a Joe Phillips field goal.
Both teams got off to a slow start offensively with no points in a first quarter. Pitt kicker Dan Hutchins missed a 42 yard field goal, failing to capitalize on a Shaky Smithson fumble keeping the scoreboard blank. The second quarter started with another Smithson fumble on a muffed punt that turned into a 3 yard touchdown run from Dion Lewis for the first points of the game.
The Utes responded with an 11 play 80 yard touchdown drive culminating in a 19 yard touchdown pass from Jordan Wynn to Jereme Brooks. The following kickoff was muffed by Pitt returning Jason Douglas and took a huge bounce past the entire Utah coverage team all the way back to kicker Nick Marsh who recovered the ball at the 35. Three plays later the Utes led 14-7 following another Jereme Brooks touchdown catch, this one from three yards out. After a 3 and out by Pitt, the Utes offense continued to roll driving down the field getting as close as the 2 yard line, before a false start and an incomplete pass pushed the Utes back to a third and goal from the 7. Jordan Wynn forced a ball into coverage to Kendrick Moeia, underthrowing him severely, and was picked off by Jarred Holley, the Utes third turnover of the half.
The two teams traded field goals in the third quarter before Pitt closed the gap to 4 points at 17-13 on Hutchins second field goal of the game from 28 yards out. The Utes came back less than two minutes later with a 61 yard touchdown pass from Wynn to DeVonte Christopher with 7:59 remaining. Christopher came out of nowhere to put up 8 catches for 155 yards in a breakout performance.
Back came Pitt with 3 passes to Baldwin, two of them complete for 19 and 44 yards respectively, the 44 yarder coming on a blow assignment from Brandon Burton and Justin Taplin-Ross which left Baldwin open in the end zone without anyone within 20 yards. The Panthers went for 2 and quarterback Tino Sunseri again found Baldwin in the end zone to bring Pitt to within 3.
The Utes attempt to run out the clocked failed and they gave the ball back to Pitt at the 50 yard line with 2:39 to play after Sean Sellwood, shanked a punt setting up one of the most unbelievable finishes you’ll ever see.
After driving down to the 14 yard line with 40 second left, Pitt was unsuccessful on two passes and a run by Lewis, netting only 1 yard, setting up a 30 yard field goal with 3 second remaining.
Pitt kicker Hutchins stepped up and calmly kicked the ball through the uprights setting off a huge celebration on the Pitt sidelines, but not before Kyle Whittingham called timeout, negating the kick.
Hutchins would line up again, this time hooking the ball left of the uprights, but again, not before Whittingham called another timeout, negating that kick as well.
The third kick would go off without a hitch as Hutchins knuckled it just inside of the left post sending the game into overtime.
The Utes won the coin toss in overtime and elected to play defense first. Pitt QB Sunseri rolled to his right on the first play and fired a pass the sidelines that was intercepted by true freshman Blechen.
After 6 carries between Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, the Utes had worked their way down to the Pitt 4. Following an attempt to freeze kicker Joe Phillips with a timeout by Pitt, the Lou Groza candidate knocked the 21 yard attempt through the uprights giving the Utes the win.
Coming off of a difficult summer in which he and his wife lost their first child, delivered stillborn at 25 weeks, the senior kicker was calm in making through the game winner as Ute players stormed in the field.
“I led the special teams meeting before the game and told the team I’d be there if they needed me,” he said after the game.
After being iced in his own right by Dave Wannstedt and Pitt, Phillips was unfazed by a timeout moments before he kicked the game winner.
“Icing the kicker doesn’t work,” he said.
Coach Whitt disagreed immediately.
“Hey! I was 1-1!”
Coach Kyle Whittingham awarded Phillips with one of two game balls.
The big battle of the night and an area of concern for the Utes was newcomer left tackle John Cullen against Pitt All American defensive end Greg Romeus. Cullen started out well in the first offensive series for the Utes holding his own, before being beaten repeatedly by Romeus on the second series which included a batted ball and a few QB hurries on Jordan Wynn. After that, it was all Cullen as he made the necessary adjustments and Romeus didn’t touch Wynn all night.
“I was more prepared for this game than any other game I’ve played. He (Romeus) used more hand moves than he did on film last year and I adjusted.”
The defense was stellar, even better than the 24 points they gave up as the offense and special teams put them in bad spots with three turnovers and a blocked field goal. Sealver Siliga, Chaz Walker, and Brandon Burton were the stars as Pitt picked up only 137 yards through the first three quarters.
Siliga was constantly in the backfield throughout the game, blowing up the interior offensive line of Pitt and forcing Dion Lewis to hesitate, often into the hands of Walker who led the team with 11 tackles. While Siliga only finished with 1 tackle, he put up an All American type performance and showed that he’s going to be a force throughout the season.
Like the rest of the Utah defense, Burton was fantastic for three quarters, shutting down one of the nation’s top receivers and holding him to 2 catches for only 8 yards for the first 45 minutes. His one hiccup was a blown assignment on a 44 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
On to Brian Blechen. He was great all night shadowing Jon Baldwin, helping shut him down through three quarters. He came up with the play of the game with his interception, showing a savvy and ability to make plays that is generally not seen from true freshman making their first career start.
Blechen describes the biggest play of his career:
“The quarterback rolled out into the flat. We’ve been studying that play for awhile now and knew they run it in the red zone. I saw it happening and just went and tried to get in the right spot and I looked up and he was throwing it. So I just went after the ball and caught it.”
A fairytale start to a potential fairytale season for the Utes, but back to business already today for a never satisfied Kyle Whittingham.
“We made enough mistakes in this game to lose it, to lose two games…there are a lot of things to correct and we’ve got to go back to work tomorrow.”