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Pittsburgh • Put in a horrible position for the third game in a row, Utah's defenders came together Saturday and decided the outcome would be different. This time they wouldn't wear down physically and they wouldn't give up mentally.
This time, they prevailed.
Utah ended its two-game losing streak Saturday with a 26-14 win over the Pitt Panthers in front of 43,719 at Heinz Field, delivering its best defensive showing of the season.
Any doubts that Utah's run defense wasn't up to its traditional high standards were snuffed out along with Pitt Ray Graham's high rushing average.
Pitt (3-4) managed just 120 yards total against the Utes (3-3) while Graham, who was the nation's second-leading rusher, averaging 149.83 yards a game, had just 12 carries for 46 yards.
Utah's John White had a much better day, rushing 36 times for 171 yards. But even his standout performance and a career day by kicker Coleman Petersen, who made four field goals, were overshadowed by Utah's defense.
Neither Graham nor quarterbacks Trey Anderson and Tino Sunseri could move the ball effectively against the Utes. The two quarterbacks combined to go 9-for-30 for just 50 passing yards. Pitt never advanced past Utah's 35-yard line and crossed midfield just four times.
"You can't say enough about the defense," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "For a total low of 120, they played hard from start to finish."
The Utes avoided the high number of turnovers that have led to their demise the last two weeks, but still put themselves in a hole early with poor special teams play.
Utah allowed a rare kickoff return for a TD when Pitt's Buddy Jackson scored on a 98-yard run that gave the Panthers a 7-3 lead with 4:52 to go in the first quarter.
On Utah's next possession, Pitt's Andrew Taglianetti blocked a punt that was recovered by Antwuan Reed and returned 10 yards for a touchdown, giving Pitt a 14-3 lead.
Such rapid deficits led to blowout losses to Washington and Arizona State for the Utes, but Saturday's outcome was different thanks to a new attitude, said defensive end Derrick Shelby, whose 21-yard interception return was the last score of the day.
"It happened in the first quarter so we knew there was a lot of football left," he said. "It was a downer, but we knew we could fight through it."
When the Utes fell behind due to turnovers against Washington, running back Chris Polk took over the game, rushing 29 times for 189 yards.
Graham had no such luck Saturday. His longest run was a 21-yard effort in the first half as he was held to 16 yards in the second half.
"We watched a lot of film and everyone did their jobs well," safety Brian Blechen said. "We paid attention to detail and were in the right spots making the right plays and it paid off."
With Graham taken care of, the Utes dared the Pitt quarterbacks to throw. Neither had much luck. Sunseri was sacked five times and Anderson was sacked once.
Such a frustrating day for the Panthers led coach Todd Graham to call the loss "embarrassing."
"It was a very disappointing day for us, to say the least; an abysmal performance by our offense," he said.
Outside of White's performance, the Utes didn't have anything to brag about offensively either. Jon Hays was 14-for-23 for 127 yards and was sacked seven times.
The only offensive touchdown was a freak pass play that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, causing the ball to fall into the hands of receiver Luke Matthews for a 33-yard touchdown.
The offensive issues must be addressed, Whittingham said. But Saturday was more about the defensive showing than the offensive woes.
"We kept fighting and nobody ever questioned anything and we kept playing," he said. "The fight is starting to become our personality, our M.O. 'Never quit and play full 60 and give everything they've got.' We have a few things to fix and correct, but effort is not one of them."
R In short • The Utes hold Pitt to 120 yards of total offense as they overcome a series of mistakes on special teams to win.
Key stat • Pitt running back Ray Graham has just 46 yards after averaging 149.83 for the season.
Key moment • Kicker Coleman Petersen makes a 39-yard field goal to put the Utes up 16-14 with 11:24 remaining in the third quarter.