PITTSBURGH — Perhaps it's only fitting that the large ketchup bottles atop the video board at Heinz Field aren't real.
The Utah Utes didn't need anything more than a win to satisfy their appetites against Pittsburgh and Saturday's 26-14 victory hit the spot.
"That cleans your pipes out a little bit. It's really the only solution and the only way to get feeling right after the frustration we've been in the last two weeks," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It'll be a nice plane ride home."
The Utes improved to 3-3 overall while snapping a two-game skid and prevailing for the first time since a 54-10 decision over BYU on Sept. 17.
"It's awesome, man. It feels great to win," defensive lineman Dave Kruger said as the team walked off the field. "We're back on track."
Utah's defense did a stellar job on Pitt. The Utes limited the Panthers to just 120 yards total offense,12 first downs and 3-of-15 success on third downs.
"The defense felt great. Every time we went out there we just went out with passion and energy," Kruger explained. "I felt like every time we stepped on the field we had that and it showed."
Pitt running back Ray Graham, who entered the game as the nation's top rush leader, wound up with just 46 yards on 12 carries.
"Our front seven is great against the run," said cornerback Conroy Black, who had one of Utah's two interceptions in the game.
The other was made by defensive end Derrick Shelby. The senior returned his 21 yards for a touchdown to seal the outcome with 1:12 remaining.
Utah kicker Coleman Petersen, who added the PAT to cap all scoring in the contest, also had an outstanding game. He made a career-high four field goals.
The junior provided the go-ahead score with a 39-yard field goal early in the third quarter to make it 16-14. He added a 45-yard kick with 7:45 to go in the fourth to extend the lead.
Just when it looked like things were going Utah's way early on, along came Pitt's special teams.
And just like that, the Utes found themselves trailing 14-3 in the first quarter. The Panthers seized control by returning a kickoff and a blocked punt for touchdowns in a span of just over two minutes.
"I know it didn't look good, man, but we just kept fighting. We didn't want it to end like the last two weeks," Black said in reference to lopsided losses to Washington (31-14) and Arizona State (35-14). "We knew we had to finish the game. No matter what the offense was doing, the defense had to play fast and great. We finished this game."
Kruger noted that Whittingham spoke about possibly having to overcome some adversity once again.
"We dug in and didn't let it affect us," Kruger said. "We kept our heads up and we followed through."
After forcing Pitt to punt on the game's opening drive and then going on a 12-play scoring drive, Utah endured some hard times.
Following a 23-yard field goal by Petersen, the Utes did something they haven't done since 2005 — allow an opposing player to return a kickoff for a touchdown. Pitt's Buddy Jackson ran 98 yards for the score to put the Panthers on top.
More special teams success followed when Utah's ensuing possession ended with a blocked punt. Pitt's Andrew Taglianetti deflected Nick Marsh's kick and Antwuan Reed returned it 10 yards for a touchdown to put the Utes in a deeper hole. They climbed back into contention, though, late in the second quarter.
A 34-yard field goal by Peterson cut the deficit to 14-6 with 3:15 remaining. Two Utah sacks and a poor punt by Pitt set up another score — a 33-yard touchdown pass from Hays to Luke Matthews just over a minute later. Petersen added the PAT, closing the Panthers' lead to 14-13 at the half
The shift in momentum continued in the second half as Utah pulled ahead and away with a 13-0 edge.
"It was a very disappointing day for us to say the least, an abysmal performance by our offense. It was embarrassing," said Pitt coach Todd Graham. "We didn't execute anything in the passing game at all. I think the thing is the inconsistency in how we are distributing the ball."
Panthers quarterbacks Tino Sunseri and Trey Anderson combined to complete 9-of-30 passes for 50 yards.36 comments on this story
Hays, meanwhile, was 14-of-23 for 127 yards while running an offense that did not turn the ball over once after giving it up 10 times over the previous two games.
Running back John White produced the biggest numbers of the day. He paced Utah's offense with 171 yards rushing on 38 carries.
The bottom line, however, was getting the victory.
"Congratulations to the players," Whittingham said. "Our players did a great job."
The Utes return to action Saturday against California at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer