MIAMI (AP) — Pittsburgh survived an early scare from host FIU to remain unbeaten with a 42-25 road victory, improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2009.
Sophomore running back James Conner rolled over a normally stingy FIU run defense for 177 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. He now has 544 rushing yards, breaking Tony Dorsett’s school record for most rushing yards in the first three games of a season (487) in the process. That was set back in 1973 in Dorsett’s freshman year.READ MORE: Business Owners In South Florida Say They're Struggling To Get Employees Back To Work
“It’s a huge honor and I’ve been working really hard,” Conner said. “I know Tony Dorsett probably worked hard to get that record and I worked hard to get that record. But it’s a team game and I’m not really thinking about that. We’ve still got some bigger games down the line and I just want to stay consistent throughout the whole season.”
Quarterback Chad Voytik rushed for 126 yards on 12 carries and had a 32-yard touchdown run for the Panthers, who host Iowa next week. He also completed 9-of-17 passes for 89 yards and one touchdown, an 18-yarder to Tyler Boyd in the second quarter.
FIU (1-2) led 16-0 in the first quarter but gave up two touchdowns in the second, leading by just two points, 16-14, at the break. The Golden Panthers fell behind for good after a 3-yard TD run by Conner with 7:15 left in the third quarter.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed because we came out here to win the game and it didn’t happen,” FIU head coach Ron Turner said. “But as I told the team, learning how to win is a process and we’re getting there. We’re taking strides and it’s coming.”
T.J. Lowder reeled in a deflection of an Alex McGough pass intended for FIU tight end Jonnu Smith and rambled 33 yards to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by McGough for a 9-0 lead. McGough followed that up with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Glenn Coleman.
Conner, Voytik and the Panthers offense settled down from there and scored 26 unanswered points, overcoming the distraction of a 30-minute lightning delay in the second half to put the game away. It was Conner’s 41-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-1 with 5:49 remaining that erased any doubt, and he added an 11-yarder 3 minutes later after FIU had cut the lead to 10 points.
“That (delay) was tough because I never experienced that before. It felt like another long halftime,” Conner said. “When we came back out my legs felt kind of sluggish but we kept the lead and we wanted to keep the lead so we handled it well.”
There were three safeties in the game, two by FIU, and a combined total of four turnovers. Conner lost two fumbles deep in FIU territory when it appeared that Pitt was about to put more points on the board but rebounded to come up with another strong performance on the ground.READ MORE: ‘Pretty Big Pay Package’: Broward School Board Negotiates $743K Exit Deal For Embattled Supt. Robert Runcie
Pitt has rushed for more than 300 yards in three straight games and leads the ACC in that category. The Panthers outgained FIU overall, 422-293, and held the ball longer by a 35:55-24:05 margin.
Pitt’s defense sacked FIU’s quarterbacks four times, getting to McGough three times and forcing a fumble. The pass rush also caused the second safety as defensive tackle Rori Blair was in the face of the Golden Panthers’ other quarterback, E.J. Hilliard, in the end zone, forcing him to throw it away for an intentional grounding penalty.
This was the Panthers’ largest comeback win since 1996, when they were down 19-0 to Temple and pulled out a 53-52 win.
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