PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Tyler Palko threw a pair of first-down
touchdown passes longer than 70 yards and Pittsburgh got off to the
kind of strong start in coach Dave Wannstedt's second season that
it wanted in its first, routing Virginia 38-13 Saturday night.
Palko, in his third season at quarterback but teamed with an
almost-new cast of receivers, played a near-perfect game except for
an interception that was returned 47 yards by Nate Lyles to set up
Virginia's only touchdown. Palko finished 17 of 22 for 283 yards
with three touchdowns, including a 72-yarder to Oderick Turner and
a 78-yarder to Derek Kinder.
Palko showed off a deep passing game that Pitt lacked last
season while going 5-6. The Panthers started the season in the Top
25, only to be routed at home by Notre Dame 42-21 in their opener
en route to an 0-3 start.
This debut game was nearly the opposite, except that Pitt also
began it with an opening-drive touchdown, just as it did the Notre
Dame loss. Palko found Turner for 20 yards on Pitt's initial
third-down play of the season. That led to Palko's 1-yard scoring
flip to Darrell Strong on a misdirection play that found Palko and
Strong wide open by themselves on the left side of the field. Palko, who followed up an excellent sophomore season with a good
but not great junior year, hit on the first deep throw he
attempted, finding Turner open down the middle on a 72-yard scoring
pass midway through the second quarter.
There was a Fighting Irish connection in this game, too, as
Christian Olsen debuted as Virginia's quarterback four years after
transferring from Notre Dame. Olsen, a senior, had a rough debut as
he could never get into a rhythm with his receivers in a Cavaliers
offense that produced only two field goals and the
Olsen was intercepted himself for a score, by Darrelle Revis for
19 yards midway through the third quarter to make it 24-10, and so
was his replacement. Kevin McCabe came in late in the fourth
quarter and immediately was intercepted by Clint Session for a
78-yard scoring return during Pitt's ninth opening-game victory in
its last 10.
Virginia coach Al Groh has called it a rebuilding season for his
team, which is coming off a 7-5 season that was considered
disappointing, but no doubt even he didn't know that competing with
Pitt would be so difficult. The Panthers have questionable depth at
running back, wide receiver and kicker but displayed none of those
weaknesses during a solid start-to-finish opener.
Pitt's receiving group was a major unknown after losing top
receiver Greg Lee, who left after his junior season but was not
drafted. None of Pitt's returning receivers had as many as 40
catches last season, but Turner made two catches for 92 yards and
Kinder had four.
Pitt had a ceremony honoring the 30th anniversary of its
unbeaten 1976 national championship team led by Heisman Trophy
winner Tony Dorsett, who attended the game.
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