PITTSBURGH - On paper, this should have been a completely one-sided game.
It was, just the complete opposite of what you might think.
Pittsburgh came out of the gate strong and continued, holding off a late Virginia Tech rally for a 35-17 upset win over the 13th ranked Hokies Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.
"I don't think we were away from earth," coach Frank Beamer said. "We just came in here and got beat by a team that played really well, played tough and hard-nosed and just played really well."
The Panthers easily marched down the field for a touchdown on the first drive of the game and added two more touchdowns in the first half.
Pittsburgh got going early and easily, driving 75 yards on just six plays capped by a 12-yard touchdown run by senior running back Ray Graham.
Meanwhile, everything that could go wrong for Virginia Tech, did. Junior quarterback Logan Thomas threw a career-high three interceptions (in the first half).
Thomas said on the third interception, his arm was hit while it was in motion, but he doesn't believe it's something he's doing wrong, just unfortunate outcomes.
"Everything has felt pretty well (with the arm)," Thomas said. "They made it tough on us, pressing us up, making us throw into tight windows. It's nothing mechanical and I feel pretty good."
Pittsburgh added a 13-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Tino Sunseri to junior wide receiver Devin Street and another short touchdown run by Graham in the first half to take a 21-3 lead.
The Panthers missed a pair of field goals, from 35 yards and 33 yards just before halftime, but the Hokies couldn't capitalize. Redshirt freshman running back Michael Holmes fumbled after the first missed field goal, setting Pittsburgh up for Graham's second touchdown.
Virginia Tech's only points of the first half came on a 32-yard field goal by Cody Journell midway through the second quarter.
The Hokies finally got some life as sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett took back a punt return for 94 yards early in the third quarter. The return was the second longest in school history.
But the momentum was quickly lost when Graham scored his third touchdown of the day, an 18-yard catch on a wheel route. The drive continued a recurring theme on the day of the Hokies being gashed by the run, giving up 254 such yards, 537 yards in total offense.
"It's nothing that can't be fixed," senior linebacker Bruce Taylor said. "It's basically they came out and we weren't ready. That's basically what it boils down to. They have some great running backs and we knew that coming in. (Shell) kinda surprised us with how well he ran, but it wasn't anything like the structure of the defense, it was just missed tackles for the most part."
Virginia Tech got back in the game quickly after, with one of its few third conversions of the game, an 85-yard catch by senior wide receiver Marcus Davis.
The Hokies had another great chance to play catch up early in the fourth quarter, when junior cornerback Antone Exum came up with an interception. But Virginia Tech subsequently went three and out.
Pittsburgh finally salted the game away with a six-yard touchdown catch by Mike Shanahan. The play came after a field goal by the Panthers that was nullified by an offisdes penalty on the Hokies.
Virginia Tech's last chance came on a late drive that ended when Thomas' pass for sophomore Demitri Knowles was tipped out of bounds.
There's plenty of concerns now for the Hokies, who will likely drop out of the top 25 rankings.
Virginia Tech went one game last season without rushing for 100 yards. After today's 59-yard total, it's two in three games. A thought-to-be stout defense has plenty of holes. And a quarterback with an outside shot at the Heisman trophy to start the season, might not get a cardboard crown at Burger King.
But Beamer believes this loss could be a good thing and will make his team better in the long run.
"All those things, three turnovers in the first quarter and a late hit, throwing a quarterback to the ground, jumping offsides, those are things that directly go opposite of winning," he said. "We've been a team that the first couple of games hadn't had many penalties. We know how to win, we just have to learn from this game and get back to it."