Pittsburgh wide receivers Devin Street (15) and Tyler Boyd (23) stand together on the field between plays in an NCAA football game between Pittsburgh and New Mexico on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
by Dale Grdnic
Associated Press Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Kasey Carrier led the nation in rushing after just two games, but New Mexico’s senior tailback met his match against Pitt in Game 3.
The Panthers held Carrier to just 22 yards on seven carries and beat the Lobos 49-27 in a non-conference game Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Pitt (1-1, 0-1 ACC), which returns to ACC play Saturday at Duke, got a big play from dynamic freshman Tyler Boyd in its second series. Boyd hauled in a 51-yard reception offense despite being interfered with on the play by New Mexico cornerback Cranston Jones.
“We got hit in the mouth right off the bat,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “It started with the early big pass. I believe it was the jump ball down the field to No. 23 (Boyd) on the first play-action. We were tentative early.
Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd (23) celebrates over New Mexico defensive back Cranston Jones (3) after making a touchdown catch in the second quarter of the NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
“We were wobbly early. That’s what I told our team. We couldn’t stop them. … We are so young and not very big. If there is any encouragement, I didn’t see anyone, after getting punched in the mouth, just run and hide.”
Pitt actually got five touchdowns from its talented freshman class and a dominant performance from its defense in the first half. The Panthers held New Mexico (1-2) to just 59 total yards at halftime, including five yards rushing. Carrier, who entered the game with an NCAA-best 345 yards rushing, had just three yards rushing after halftime.
“I think we came out a little timid, to be quite honest,” New Mexico safety Dante Caro said. “That first half, they got on us and they came out and made plays. They were really ready and caught us off guard. They made their plays, and we didn’t (in) the first half. That’s for sure.”
Fifth-year senior strong safety Jason Hendricks and redshirt junior weak-side linebacker Todd Thomas led Pitt’s defense with 10 tackles and two stops behind the line each, but the back seven keyed off of senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s powerful performance up front. Donald had five solo tackles, two sacks (21.5 in his career) and four total stops behind the line. But it seemed like he was in the backfield a lot more than that.
“Aaron Donald, he’s a horse,” Thomas said. “Ty Ezell, Dave Durham, Ejuan Price, Bryan Murphy, Darryl Render, those guys right there really played well today. If everybody does what they’re supposed to do, the sky’s the limit for this defense.
Pitt ran and threw the ball with equal success against New Mexico. Junior Isaac Bennett had 14 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman James
Conner added 119 yards and two scores on 12 carries with a 38-yard burst around right end for the touchdown. Boyd had two carries for 39 yards with a 33-yard touchdown run and also had six catches for 134 yards with a spectacular 34-yard scoring catch as time ran out in the first half to go with that 51-yard bomb early on.
Boyd also ran a reverse for a 33-yard touchdown run, his first collegiate touchdown.
“Once our offense gets rolling, I can do multiple things … it opens up way more,” Boyd said.
The other freshman who scored a touchdown for Pitt was tight end Scott Orndoff. He came off the line and was open in the end zone for a four-yard scoring pass from quarterback Tom Savage. Savage was 13 of 17 for 236 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
Pitt couldn’t make enough plays to stay with the Seminoles in its 41-13 loss in the ACC opener Sept. 2, but the Panthers punted just twice against New Mexico and had seven plays go for 20 or more yards. Savage overcame an early interception to find Boyd running free in the New Mexico secondary for a 51-yard reception. Three plays later, Savage hit Orndoff in the end zone to give Pitt a lead it never relinquished.
A 28-yard pass to fifth-year senior wide out Devin Street keyed Pitt’s third scoring drive and Conner capped it with a 20-yard run. Street finished with five catches for 80 yards. On the next drive, an 18-yard pass to Street set up Conner again who finished with a 38-yard touchdown run.
Savage’s two interceptions and two Pitt fumbles kept the Panthers from a premier performance, but it was enough to easily handle New Mexico.