ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Unranked Pittsburgh made a pretty strong
case for the Top 25 on Friday night.
LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns to
help the Panthers rout Central Florida 52-7, pushing Pitt to its
fourth straight win.
The school's 6-1 start is its best since a Dan Marino-led squad
opened 7-0 in 1982, and the Panthers' 11th-ranked offense bested
its 35-point average by 16.
"They play extremely well together," UCF defensive end Chris
Welsh said. "When they do not do things well they come back
Pitt led from the opening kickoff, which Lowell Robinson
returned 97 yards for a touchdown. The Panthers were up 14-0 after
1:02 and 38-0 at halftime, and didn't punt a single time.
The Panthers' Tyler Palko, who entered the game with a 191.32
efficiency rating (second best in NCAA Division I), completed 11 of
15 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Four of UCF's six first-half possessions ended in turnovers,
though the Panthers seemed to have their toughest time with a short
Palko engineered touchdown drives of 86 yards and 93 yards,
helped by a defense keying on the quick and shifty
Stephens-Howling. But the Panthers ended two possessions that began
with Golden Knights turnovers at their opponents' 20 and 32 with a
field goal and missed field goal, respectively.
The second kick came as the clock ticked off to halftime, when
despite a 38-point lead, Pitt pushed for a TD.
"We had 30 minutes of football left," Pitt coach Dave
Wannstedt said. "We would never intentionally run the score up,
but it was the same play we ran last week against Syracuse to run
the clock out against them. And he was open."
Stephens-Howling, a sophomore who before last week at Syracuse
had only 207 yards on 56 carries on the season, stole the show. He
ripped off touchdown runs of 23 and 26 yards in the first half, the
second of them untouched by a UCF defender, and consistently eluded
tackles by changing direction.
He was the Big East player of the week after gaining 221 yards
on 27 carries against Syracuse last week.
Both Stephens-Howling and Palko sat out the fourth quarter.
Stephen Moffett struggled for the Knights, fumbling at midfield
on the first possession and throwing an interception that
interrupted a first-half drive at the Pitt 9. Coach George O'Leary
pulled him in the second quarter in favor of junior Kyle Israel,
who finally led UCF on its first scoring drive with 14 seconds left
in the third. Central Florida converted three fourth downs on the
drive before Kevin Smith scampered a yard for a touchdown.
Moffett was 5-for-10 for 52 yards and one interception, while
Israel finished with 158 yards on 13-of-19 passing.
UCF rushing leader Smith carried 20 times for 70 yards.
The loss continues a string of disappointment for UCF (2-4),
which entered the season off its first bowl game appearance. The
Knights are 0-8 against Big East teams.
"We need to regroup and get ready for the next one," O'Leary
said. "I do not know anything at all that we did well out there. I
have to go back to the tape."