Pitt ends UK’s season with a 27-10 loss in BBVA Compass Bowl


UK’s Randall Cobb walks off the field in dissapointment after losing to Pittsburgh 27-10 at Legion Field on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. Photo by Scott Hannigan

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— UK knew that Pittsburgh sophomore tailbacks Dion Lewis and Ray Graham were going to be pounding the ball into the heart of the defense, but this knowledge did little to help the Cats in their 27-10 loss at Legion Field in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Without suspended senior quarterback Mike Hartline, the question entering the game was whether UK sophomore Morgan Newton could conjure a special performance in his first start in more than a year to help the Cats (6-7, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) avoid their first losing season since 2005.

However, Newton’s performance, including a career-high 211 passing yards on 21 of 36 passing, was perhaps overshadowed by UK’s porous run defense and two botched special teams plays that resulted in two Pitt (8-5, 5-2 Big East) touchdowns.

“This is not the way you want to end your career, with a loss like this, when you prepared for a month and you know what to expect, then you go out there and look like poop,” senior defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. “We were out there on defense calling when they were going to run the ball, yet we couldn’t stop it.”

Pitt’s 261 rushing yards, including 105 yards courtesy of Lewis, the game’s MVP, set the BBVA Compass Bowl record for most team rushing yards.

“What we saw out there on the field defensively, and while I’m not discouraged, is unacceptable, totally unacceptable,” said newly appointed UK co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter, who assumed play calling duties from co-defensive coordinator Steve Brown as of this game. “We came here to try and stop the run, and it’s hard to do that in a short period of time, but we will get it done.”

For much of the first half, the game was a tightly contested affair. Each team committed a turnover on its opening drive of the game; the Cats then pulled ahead 3-0 in the first quarter thanks to a 50-yard field goal by sophomore Craig McIntosh before the Panthers leveled the score thanks a 21-yard field goal by senior Dan Hutchins at the 11:29 mark of the second quarter.

Hutchins booted another field goal, a 33-yarder, late in the second quarter for a 6-3 lead.

On the Cats’ ensuing possession, a costly special teams miscue drastically changed the outlook of the game heading into the intermission.

Pitt sophomore Andrew Taglianetti blocked junior Ryan Tydlacka’s punt and freshman Kolby Gray recovered at the UK 10-yard line. Three plays later and sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri was in the end zone to help Pitt to a 13-3 lead with 34 seconds before halftime.

“We didn’t show up today, plain and simple,” UK senior tailback Derrick Locke said. “That blocked punt, that was the game, and that killed us, momentum and everything.”

The Cats faced a 4th-and-four on the first possession after halftime, in their own territory, and opted to try a fake punt, which failed; UK junior wide receiver Matt Roark was intending to make a pass on the play but was brought down at the UK 35-yard line.

“Special teams definitely hurt us today,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “We didn’t execute the fake the way we had in practice. I’ll write those (two miscues) down as turnovers. We have not won games when we turn the ball over.”

The fake punt set up the Panthers nicely. Sunseri later connected with tight end Brock DeCicco on a 13-yard touchdown pass for a commanding 20-3 lead.

UK senior fullback Moncell Allen scored the Cats’ only touchdown of the game on a 1-yard run late in the third quarter but the Panthers had already resorted to killing the clock with the run game.

Locke said that UK might’ve been in a different position late in the game, had the team’s fifth-year senior quarterback been under center for the game.

“I think things would’ve been a lot different; Hartline’s used to this kind of stuff,” Locke said. “They didn’t blitz and he would’ve picked them apart, simple as that, I feel like it would’ve been an easy game.”

Still, Locke said that even without Hartline, opportunities to win the game were abundant but failure to execute—on everyone’s part, not just the quarterback—cost the team.

“I thought Morgan, since his last outing as a full-time quarterback made much improvement,” Phillips said. “It wasn’t enough to win this game though.”

Cobb mum on NFL future

At the postgame interview, receiver Randall Cobb was asked about whether or not he had made a decision regarding his NFL future, but he said he has yet to make a decision on if he will forgo his senior season.

Said Cobb: “I don’t know (right now). It’s something I have a week now to figure out. I had a chance to go home and talk to my family daily. I’ll have a decision made by next weekend.”

Junior linebacker Danny Trevathan, another Cat contemplating leaving school early, was not available for postgame interviews.

Game notes

This was the first meeting between UK and Pitt… Lewis was named the game’s MVP…The Big East is now 5-0 in the BBVA Compass Bowl and 2-0 against the SEC…Cobb finished the game with 204 all-purpose yards, setting the SEC record (2,396 yards), previously held by Darren McFadden, for most all-purpose yards in a season…Cobb also became the fifth player in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season (1,017 yards)…McIntosh’s 50-yard field goal tied a career long…Locke finished his career as UK’s all-time kickoff return leader with a career average of 27.11 yards per return.