Pittsburgh 27, Navy 14
Right then, his Pitt teammates knew it would be a much different game for a quarterback who wins games, but has trouble winning over his own fans.
Dion Lewis and Ray Graham each scored a touchdown, Stull effectively ran the Panthers' offense and Pittsburgh turned a bizarre failed punt by Navy into a pivotal touchdown during a 27-14 victory over the Midshipmen on Saturday night.
The Panthers (3-0) held Navy's trademark running game to 129 yards while improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2000 and only the fourth time since Dan Marino's senior season in 1982. The Panthers, two spots out of the Top 25 last week, might be ready to return to the national rankings.
Stull, booed loudly during a 38-3 win over Youngstown State two weeks before, went 17 of 24 for 245 yards as Pitt outgained the Midshipmen 369-218. The Panthers were coming off a 54-27 decision over Buffalo in which they allowed 500 yards yet still won by 27.
Pitt didn't need long to build off its highest-scoring game in 10 years, using up nearly seven minutes at the start of the game on an 89-yard drive that ended with Stull's 6-yard scoring pass to Oderick Turner, one play after Stull's 22-yard completion to Jonathan Baldwin. Baldwin made six catches for 111 yards.
"Billy was putting the ball in the right places," Baldwin said. "It (the opening drive) helped his confidence a lot. That first game, people were booing him and we just encouraged him, we were telling him to just go out and execute and they'll be quiet then."
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt felt it helped Stull to go on the road last week and get away from fans who weren't happy with his 7 of 24 performance during a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.
"He didn't have to deal with the crowd," Wannstedt said. "I was real curious to see how he played here. His confidence took a step forward."
Baldwin's 18-yard reception and tight end Nate Byham's 24-yard catch highlighted a 59-yard drive that ended with Graham's 15-yard run and put Pitt up 14-7 early in the second quarter. Graham, who was playing high school football last season, took over on the drive from Lewis, another freshman who came into the game as the nation's No. 3 rusher.
Lewis ran for 79 yards on 23 carries and scored on a 6-yard run only three plays after Navy not only couldn't get off a punt, but lost 23 yards without the kick being blocked.
"Pitt threw the ball really well and they hurt us on third downs and picked us apart," said linebacker Ross Pospisil, who compared the game to Pitt's 42-21 win over Navy last season in which LeSean McCoy ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns. "I thought Dion Lewis was almost as a good as McCoy."
Defensively, Pitt was led by yet another freshman, Dan Mason, who made 11 tackles during his first career start while replacing the injured Adam Gunn (ankle).
"I love the kid," Wannstedt said. "He's an old school middle linebacker. He is all business in there."
Not long after Navy kicker Joe Buckley was wide right on a 32-yard field goal try that would have cut Pitt's lead to 4, Kyle Delahooke mishandled the snap while attempting to punt on fourth-and-5 from the Navy 38.
Delahooke made it worse by attempting to kick the ball while it was sitting on the turf - a 15-yard penalty that, combined with the 8-yard loss on the play, gave Pitt the ball at the Navy 15. Lewis went on to score his fifth rushing touchdown and sixth overall in three games.
"That was probably one of the worst performances as a team we've had in a long while," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Navy's Ricky Dobbs was 6 of 21 for 89 yards and was held to 21 yards rushing. Two years ago, Navy won at Pitt 48-45 in two overtimes.
Pitt had its own unique play in the quarter, a 20-yard completion by Stull to himself on a tipped pass, but he fumbled near the goal line and Navy (1-2) recovered at its own 1.