Published September 23, 2010
PITTSBURGH – The decades may change, the conferences may change but everything stays the same when Miami plays Pitt. The games are as one-sided as the rivalry.
Jacory Harris led quick touchdown drives to start each half and No. 19 Miami dominated Pittsburgh much like it did when the schools were Big East Conference rivals, winning 31-3 on Thursday night.
Harris had two more floater-type interceptions like the four he threw in a 36-24 loss to No. 2 Ohio State two weeks ago, but shook them off to throw for two scores and 248 yards while going 21 of 32. Damien Berry did the rest by running for 87 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in an offense that outgained Pitt's 348-232.
The Hurricanes (2-1), faster, deeper and more athletic than the Panthers (1-2), never gave Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri any time to throw in his third college start, and he was pulled in the fourth quarter after completing 8 of 15 passes for 61 yards.
Dion Lewis, the nation's leading returning rusher, was given little running room by an overwhelmed offensive line and ended with 41 yards on 12 carries. Lewis, coming off a 1,799-yard season as a freshman, has been held to 143 yards in three games.
Miami's plan was simple and effective: Strike early, strike effectively, then let its defense and special teams do the rest.
With the Hurricanes up 17-3 early in the fourth, they forced a fumble by punt returner Cam Saddler. Harris took advantage to throw a 10-yard TD pass to Travis Benjamin that wrapped up Miami's seventh consecutive victory against Pitt and its 15th in 16 games dating to 1984.
"The defense played great," defensive end Andrew Smith said. "We put an emphasis on tackling (in practice), and we were getting all 11 to the ball. We wanted to wrap them up and drive them back, and that showed up on the field."
And in the statistics. The Hurricanes had five sacks, nine tackles for losses — a stat in which they lead the nation — and forced three turnovers. Sean Spence had 1½ sacks and 2½ tackles for a loss and a team-high nine tackles.
"When you can stop the run and make them one-dimensional, you have a good chance of winning," Spence said. "We always want to be the one to throw the first punch. We did a great job of starting fast."
Again, it was a bad day for the Big East, which is 1-7 so far this season against nonconference opponents from BCS conferences. Pitt is 1-11 against ranked nonconference teams since 1996, while Miami has won 33 in a row against unranked nonconference teams.
Harris also found Leonard Hankerson on a 19-yard scoring pass play on Miami's fourth play from scrimmage in the second half, completing a 51-yard drive set up by a 26-yard punt by Pitt's Dan Hutchins. Harris hit Benjamin for 20 yards on first down.
"He managed the game well, he made some great throws and he did his job," Miami coach Randy Shannon said of Harris.
Shannon once played for and coached under Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, but he didn't do his old boss any favors. Wannstedt was so upset with his team's performance, he held a hastily called post-game meeting with his seniors and some other players.
"We're just not in sync," Wannstedt said. "We'll make one good play on offense and two bad ones. ... If we need to make changes, we'll make changes. We've got to look at the offensive line."
The teams hadn't met since Miami left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, but, as usual, the Hurricanes made it look easy.
Pitt didn't advance inside the Miami 30 until the next-to-last play of the third quarter, and that was on a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty. Lewis gained only 5 yards on the next plays carries, and Hutchins kicked a 27-yard field goal to avoid Pitt's second shutout loss of the Dave Wannstedt era.
By then, many in the announced crowd of 58,115 had taken off for the parking lots as Pitt lost its second game to a team currently ranked in the Top 25. The Panthers began the season with a 27-24 overtime loss at now-No. 15 Utah.
Pitt also lost a key player to injury, middle linebacker Dan Mason with a dislocated right knee midway through the third quarter. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Harris, operating against little pressure from Pitt's pass rush, completed passes of 39 yards and 13 yards to Benjamin and 10 to Berry on an impressive 80-yard, 10-play drive following the opening kickoff that ended with Berry's 1-yard touchdown run with only 3:25 gone.
Miami made it 10-0 midway through the second quarter on Matt Bosher's 28-yard field goal after Hankerson couldn't hold onto Harris' pass into the end zone on second-and-9 from the 11.
At that point, Miami led 12-0 in first downs, 161-1 in passing yards and 204-22 in total yards, and it didn't even look that close.
Pitt's offense didn't show any life until Ray Graham replaced Lewis, who gained only 6 yards on his first four carries. Graham finished with 100 yards on 14 carries, many of them late in an already decided gam