Pitt overcomes first-half miscues to top Rutgers

PITTSBURGH -- Preparing for the game was difficult enough for Rutgers; playing it was tougher still. On a demanding day when the Scarlet Knights couldn't stop Pitt's playmakers, they promised there will be better days ahead.

For them, and for the badly injured Eric LeGrand.

Jon Baldwin caught a 45-yard touchdown pass and set up two other scores with difficult catches, Tino Sunseri threw for three touchdowns and Pittsburgh overcome a series of mistakes in the first half to beat emotionally drained Rutgers 41-21 on Saturday.

Dion Lewis, the nation's leading returning rusher after gaining 1,799 yards last season, gained 130 yards on 17 carries and ran for a touchdown during his first 100-yard game this season. Sunseri was 21-of-27 for a career-high 307 yards and has seven touchdown passes as Pitt (4-3, 2-0 Big East) has easily won its first two conference games.

The Scarlet Knights (4-3, 1-1) played a week after LeGrand, a defensive lineman, became paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle against Army. A trust fund already has been established to provide support for his care.

"Another week has gone by and another week has been played, and Eric's still in the same situation. Nothing has changed," coach Greg Schiano said. "But he's going to keep moving on and we're going to keep moving on. This team will play very good football this year. We kind of hit a bad spot today."

To honor LeGrand, Rutgers players wore "Believe" on their helmets, and the school still lists him on its player roster. Pitt players and students signed a large banner wishing him well, and many fans wore stickers bearing Rutgers' logo and the message "Pitt Is Pulling For Eric."

"This was a different week preparing for the game because of the misfortune to their player, Eric LeGrand," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "It was a topic of conversation around our locker room."

Still, Schiano said there was no "win one for Eric" message, because emotions already are raw and speeches alone won't win games or make him well.

"We're not going to make it where it's a heroic cry," Schiano said. "We openly discuss it every day, how he's doing, but it's not a rallying point or anything. It's knowing about a family member."

The Scarlet Knights, aware that winning a difficult road game might be the best way to cheer up their injured teammate, turned a Sunseri-thrown interception into a touchdown early in the game and later blocked a punt for a touchdown that made it 14-all at the half.

But, with their Wildcat offense limited by Mohamed Sanu's foot injury, the Knights were oustcored 27-7 during the second half. Sanu, Rutgers' leading rusher coming in, carried once for 1 yard as Pitt outgained the Scarlet Knights 513-203.

Sunseri also hit tight end Mike Cruz on touchdown throws of 11 and 3 yards as Pitt scored more than 40 points in successive games for the first time in Big East play. Pitt had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver for the first time since a 42-26 victory over Boston College in 2000.

"If we keep this up, we'll be a difficult team to beat," Pitt's Dom DeCicco said.

Baldwin proved difficult to defend, taking advantage of frequent one-on-one coverage to make five catches for 139 yards. His one-handed reception for 23 yards between two defenders led to the first of Dan Hutchins' two field goals in the second half.

Pitt wrapped it up when Baldwin got open on his 45-yard scoring catch early in the fourth quarter, making it 34-14. Lewis gained 80 of his 130 yards after halftime, giving him 310 yards in two career starts against Rutgers

"I think early in the season, a lot of people were counting us out, Baldwin said. "We always believed in ourselves and now we're in first place in the Big East."

Baldwin, limited to one catch during a 45-14 victory at Syracuse the week before, also outjumped two defenders on a 46-yard catch to the Rutgers 13 near the midpoint of the second quarter. Ray Graham ran it in on the next play to put Pitt ahead 14-7.

"If Jonathan Baldwin is in one-on-one coverage, we've got to get him the ball," Wannstedt said.

Rutgers freshman Chas Dodd, who directed a pair of fourth-quarter comeback victories after becoming the starter, was 8-of-19 for 62 yards and an interception and was sacked six times, three by Brandon Lindsey. Rutgers couldn't build off Brandon Bing's touchdown on a blocked punt by Wayne Warren that tied it at halftime.