SALT LAKE CITY — Utah athletic director Chris Hill joked that "it seemed like a good idea at the time."
A home-and-home agreement with Pittsburgh began with a first for the Utes, a ranked opponent in a season opener in Salt Lake City.
Prior to Thursday's game between the 15th-ranked Panthers and 24th-ranked Utes, Hill said the dates just worked out for a two-game series. The teams will meet again next season at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
"There was no unbelievable strategy. It just worked out. It fit a hole in both of our schedules," Hill said. "It's a national game and it'll most likely be a national game next year."
While calling around to fill a vacancy on Utah's slate, Hill got connected with Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson. The Utes needed a home game this year and the Panthers needed one in 2011.
"It just made sense," Hill said. "So we slotted it in and now both of us are ranked and saying why did we do this."
Joking aside, it was an opportunity the Utes couldn't pass up.
"As a Mountain West Conference school we thought 'Hey, any time you can play the Big East and they were going to come here first. It just made sense.'"
IN ATTENDANCE: The press box included scouts from the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A Fiesta Bowl representative was also on hand, as was Sports Illustrated.
NEW ADDITIONS: Two new steel signs, measuring 25-feet tall and 10-feet wide and weighing 8,506 pounds, have been added to the main scoreboard at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The signage honors Utah's victories in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and 2009 Sugar Bowl.
PACKED HOUSE: Thursday's attendance, a sellout that included a standing-room crowd, was 45,730 — the third-largest in stadium history. It ranks behind the BYU game in 2008 (46,488) and ahead of the TCU contest the same year (45,666). The largest crowd in Rice-Eccles Stadium history (46,768) attended the California game in 2003.
FIRST STARTS: Nine Utes made their first career starts Thursday — left tackle John Cullen, wide receiver Shaky Smithson, defensive end Junior Tui'one, defensive tackle Dave Kruger, linebacker Matt Martinez, linebacker Chaz Walker, linebacker Chad Manis, strong safety Brian Blechen and kicker Nick Marsh.
STATS & STUFF: Matt Asiata led the Utes with 65 yards rushing. ... DeVonte Christopher had a team-high eight receptions. ... Walker finished with a game-high 11 tackles. ... Brandon Burton recorded two pass breakups . .. . Tui'one and Latu Heimuli were credited with sacks.
BROTHER, BROTHER: The Utes used two pair of brothers in the game. Dave and Joe Kruger saw action on defense, while Matt and Shawn Asiata took the field on offense.
EXTRA POINTS: Linebacker Jamel King (hamstring) and running back Mychal Robinson (knee) left the game with injuries. ... Utah is now 5-4 all-time in overtime games. Prior to the 27-24 win over Pitt, the Utes last played an overtime at the end of the 2009 regular season, losing to BYU. ... Utah improved to 8-0 against Big East Conference opponents. ... The Utes picked up their first season-opening win over a team ranked in the AP poll. It followed five setbacks. ... Utah has won four straight home games against ranked teams — defeating No. 11 UCLA (2007), No. 11 TCU (2008), No. 16 BYU (2008) and No. 15 Pitt (2010). ... The Utes picked up their 20th victory over an automatic-qualifying conference team since the BCS was formed in 1998.