Utah's last football season before heading off to the Pac-12 got off on the right foot here Thursday night as the Utes beat #15 Pittsburgh in overtime, 27-24, in front of a crowd of 45,730, the third-largest in Rice-Eccles Stadium history.
Utah's Joe Phillips kicked the game-winning, 21-yard field goal on the Utes' first possession in overtime, after true freshman safety Brian Blechen intercepted Panther quarterback Tino Sunseri on Pitt's first play in O.T.
The Panthers forced overtime with a 10-play, 37-yard drive at the end of regulation, culminating in a 30-yard Dan Hutchins field goal that tied the game at 24. Hutchins had to make the kick three times because Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham called timeout just before each of his first two attempts.
The Utes won the statistical battle, outgaining Pitt both on the ground (122-82) and in the air (283-184) for a total offense edge of 405-266. Utah sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn hit on 21 of his 36 passing attempts, with 3 touchdowns and one interception.
Wynn's first two scoring strikes went to senior wideout Jereme Brooks, the first was a 19-yarder midway through the second quarter that tied the game at 7. The second Wynn-to-Brooks hookup came less than a minute later after Pittsburgh's Jason Douglas fumbled the kickoff. After a 24-yard completion to Devonte Christopher and a pass interference penalty on the Panthers, Wynn hit Brooks from three yards out to give the Utes a 14-7 lead.
After a scoreless first quarter, Pitt got on the board early in the second on a 3-yard run by pre-season All-American Dion Lewis. The Panthers only had to go 28 yards for the score after a Shaky Smithson muffed punt on the first play of the period. For Smithson, that was his second turnover of the game, fumbling the ball away in the first quarter after a reception. The Ute defense held the Panthers to a 42-yard field goal attempt, which missed wide left.
Utah extended its 14-7 lead to 17-7 with a 10-play, 59-yard scoring drive to open the second half, Phillips hitting from 26 yards out for his first field goal of the season. the next time the Utes got the ball, they went three-and-out, after which Sean Sellwood's punt was blocked and recovered by the Panthers at the Utah 8-yard line.
Pitt was unable to advance the football, losing 12 yards on the drive, but a Hutchins 37-yard field goal cut the Ute advantage to 17-10. The next time the Panthers had the ball, they took more than eight minutes off the clock, winding up with another field goal at the 9:48 mark of the fourth quarter to make it 17-13.
Then things really got exciting, Jordan Wynn connecting with Devonte Christopher over the middle for a 61-yard catch and run for a score, the extra point making it a 24-13 ballgame with just less than eight minutes to play. For the game, Christopher had eight catches for 155 yards, both career highs.
But back came the Panthers, Sunseri finding Jon Baldwin behind the Ute secondary for a 44-yard touchdown pass, the 2-point conversion getting Pitt back to within a field goal at 24-21 with 7:11 to go in the fourth quarter.
That set up the end of game scenario, making a hero out of Blechen, the former high school quarterback who earned a starting job at strong safety in fall camp.
With the win, Utah's home winning streak is now 18 games, the second-longest in school history. The Utes won 26 in a row from 1928 through 1934.
Next up for Utah, another home game on Saturday, September 10 against Mountain West Conference foe UNLV. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah is now 5-4 in overtime. The Utes beat Air Force in OT last season.
Utah improves to 2-0 against Pitt, and 8-0 against teams from the Big East Conference.
The Utes held Pitt to just 82 yards rushing, 50 in the first quarter and 32 for the remainder of the game.
Utah linebacker Chaz Walker, a junior from Davis (Kaysville, Utah) High School, made his first start as a Ute and led the team in tackles with a career-high 11.