Pitt's 'most challenging' season ends with loss
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)
Despite a bowl loss, Pittsburgh's effort in difficult conditions earned compliments from the Panthers' outgoing interim coach and new coach.
Pittsburgh couldn't overcome SMU's three first-quarter touchdowns as the Mustangs beat the Panthers 28-6 on Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Patterson took over as interim coach after Todd Graham left after only one season with Pittsburgh to coach at Arizona State. Pitt also lost three assistant coaches after the regular season.
''There's no doubt it's been the most challenging four weeks of my life,'' said Patterson, who has accepted a new job as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas State.
''But the respect I have for these young men staying together and finishing was worth it.''
Pittsburgh's newly hired coach, former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, flew into Birmingham on Saturday and watched the game from the press box level.
''I have a lot of appreciation for how they're finishing things out,'' Chryst said was he watched his new team.
Chryst visited with Pitt alumni and fans before the game. He said he wanted to maintain a respectful distance from the team until the game ended, signaling the start of his era.
''This is the culmination of their season,'' Chryst said. ''This wasn't me.''
Pitt senior nose tackle Myles Caragein said the chaos of the last month was difficult on the players.
''It was tough not knowing what was going to happen,'' Caragein said. ''Some players didn't have position coaches. It was about us coming together and working as a team.''
The loss left Pittsburgh (6-7) with a losing season.
''But I felt really good about the effort that they gave,'' Patterson said. ''They represented as well as they possibly could.''
SMU held Pitt to 10 yards rushing.
''I'm really proud of the defense,'' said SMU coach June Jones, following his 100th win as a college coach.
''Really the defense has been that way all year. They've been the reason we've won eight games. We haven't been as sharp on offense as we've been in years past.''
Rishaad Wimbley ran for two scores for SMU (8-5), which tied a school record by playing in its third straight bowl. Before Jones' arrival in in 2008, SMU had played in the postseason since beating Notre Dame in the 1984 Aloha Bowl.
Pittsburgh was held without a first down and fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter. Kevin Harper kicked field goals of 32 and 34 yards.
McDermott beat Pitt's blitz when lobbed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Johnson for the Mustangs' first touchdown.
Johnson had seven catches for 120 yards and was named the game's MVP. The 50-yard catch was the longest in the six-year history of the bowl.
After McDermott's 1-yard run capped an eight-play drive to push the lead to 14-0, Ja'Gared Davis hit Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Taylor Reed at the Panthers' 27.
Sunseri was 19 of 28 passing for 183 yards with an interception.
McDermott's 19-yard pass to Cole Beasley set up Wimbley's 2-yard touchdown run.
Wimbley added a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Pitt was making its second straight appearance in the bowl after beating Kentucky in last year's game.
A series of key plays went against Pitt in the second quarter. Following the field goal, Pitt recovered an onside kick, but the officials said there was an inadvertent whistle before the ball was recovered. Pitt fans booed as the officials said another kickoff was necessary.
''Both officials came over and apologized to me and said they made a bad call,'' Patterson said. ''They were very apologetic. There's nothing you can do about that. But that was a big momentum-changer.''
With SMU still leading 21-3 later in the quarter, Pitt drove from its 16 to a first and goal at the Mustangs' 10. On third down from the 5, Sunseri's pass bounced off tailback Isaac Bennett. The deflection was caught by SMU linebacker Stephon Sanders for an interception.
The half ended with Pitt again coming away with no points at the end of a long drive. Harper's 47-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright to end a 14-play drive.
Jones said SMU running back Jared Williams suffered a probable broken left leg in the fourth quarter. Williams' left leg was placed in a brace before he was placed on a stretcher.
Williams led the Mustangs with 11 carries for 40 yards before the injury.
Attendance was 29,726.