Saturday, December 26, 2009
Instant analysis: Pitt 19, North Carolina 17
By Brian Bennett
Instant analysis of Pittsburgh's 19-17 win over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Dion Lewis had 159 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries in Pittsburgh's win over North Carolina.
How the game was won: It was a close, back-and-forth battle as you'd expect between two teams and two head coaches that are in many ways mirror images of each other.
Pitt trailed 17-16 when it took over on its own 5-yard line in the fourth quarter. The Panthers wisely put the burden on their running game and Dion Lewis, who to that point had been shut down in the second half. Lewis rushed for 58 yards on a 17-play, 8:47 drive that resulted in a Dan Hutchins 33-yard field goal with 52 seconds left. The Pitt defense then held off a final Tar Heels' drive.
Turning point: Hutchins lined up for a 47-yard attempt on fourth-and-2 earlier in the drive. That was probably out of his range. But North Carolina was whistled for an offside penalty, allowing Pitt to move closer and to eat up even more time.
Player of the game: Lewis. Despite a costly fumble through the end zone for a touchback in the first quarter, Lewis was still the best player on the field. He finished with 28 carries for 159 yards and a touchdown as he broke Tony Dorsett's freshman Pitt record for rushing. Also credit the Pitt offensive line, which won the battle up front against the Tar Heels' No. 6 rated defense.
Unsung hero of the game:Mike Shanahan. The freshman receiver had five catches for 83 yards, and many of them were in crucial situations. He held onto a 13-yard grab on third-and-7 despite taking a big hit over the middle during Pitt's winning drive.
Best call: Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt often is criticized for being too conservative. But facing a 4th-and-1 on his own 30 on that winning march, he trusted his offensive line instead of going the safe route and punting. Quarterback Bill Stull followed that line for a 3-yard gain on a sneak.
What it means: Pitt reached the 10-win mark for the first time since 1981 and should finish the season in the Top 15. The victory was a relief after the Panthers lost their final two regular season games in the final minute and saw their BCS bowl chances slip away. Now they have some momentum to build upon for next season, when they should begin the year in the Top 25. And the Big East is off to a 2-0 start in the postseason.