Panthers drop Wildcats for win dedicated to former coach Dave Wannstedt

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Pittsburgh players dumped the cooler full of sports drink on Phil Bennett.

They hoped Dave Wannstedt, watching on TV in Naples, Fla., also felt an affectionate chill.

Pittsburgh scored touchdowns off two mistakes by Kentucky's punting team and the Panthers, playing for their former coach, beat the Wildcats 27-10 in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday.

Pittsburgh players dedicated the win to Wannstedt, who was forced to resign following a disappointing regular season.

"We knew coach Wannstedt was watching," safety Dom DeCicco said. "It was special to come out here and play the way we did and get this win after all the adversity we've been through."

Bennett, the defensive coordinator, was the acting head coach in his final game with Pittsburgh. Bennett was hired Friday as Baylor's defensive coordinator.

Pitt hired Miami of Ohio coach Mike Haywood to replace Wannstedt, but Haywood was fired less than three weeks later after he was jailed in Indiana on a domestic violence charge. The school has yet to hire another head coach.

Pittsburgh's players were not overwhelmed by the turmoil.

"We've got good kids," said Bennett, who was soaked with about 1:30 remaining. "They've been through a lot. I'm just proud of them and I know Dave Wannstedt is."

Bennett said the players felt responsible for Wannstedt's forced exit.

"Whether we want to admit it or not, don't kid yourself. They thought that maybe they were the problem of why our coach was released, and they went out and wanted to play well," Bennett said. "It was obvious that there was a focus, and they went out and executed and played well."

Andrew Taglianetti blocked a punt to set up Pittsburgh's first touchdown late in the first half. An incomplete pass on Kentucky's fake punt early in the second half set up Tino Sunseri's 13-yard touchdown pass to Brock DeCicco. Sunseri also ran for a touchdown.

The Panthers (8-5) protected the lead with their running game. Dion Lewis ran for 105 yards and a touchdown, and Ray Graham added 90 yards rushing as the Panthers outgained Kentucky 261-104 on the ground.

"They looked like an SEC team the way they run the ball," said Kentucky defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin.

Sunseri completed 9 of 19 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown.

Kentucky (6-7), playing without suspended quarterback Mike Hartline, fell far below its average of 33 points per game. Morgan Newton making his first start since his 2009 freshman season, was 21 of 36 passing for 211 yards.

"I thought Morgan made much improvement," said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips. "It wasn't enough to win the game, though."

Phillips said Kentucky "didn't play with a lot of confidence or poise."

Pitt led 20-3 before the Wildcats' only touchdown, a 1-yard run by Moncell Allen late in the third quarter. The Panthers answered with a long drive and 2-yard touchdown run by Lewis.

Randall Cobb set the Southeastern Conference's single-season record for all-purpose yards, but the versatile junior couldn't help the Wildcats overcome their special teams mistakes.

Pittsburgh led 6-3 on two field goals by Dan Hutchins before Taglianetti blocked Ryan Tydlacka's punt late in the first half. Tydlacka appeared to take an extra step before attempting a rugby style punt.

Pitt's Kolby Gray recovered at the Kentucky 10, setting up Sunseri's 1-yard scoring run for a 13-3 lead with only 34 seconds remaining in the half.

Kentucky's first possession of the second half ended with another key mistake by its punting team. Matt Roark took the snap on the apparent punt but he didn't have time to make his planned pass. He was ruled down on the Kentucky 35 before throwing an incomplete pass.

"Our operation wasn't as clean as it needed to be," said Phillips of the unsuccessful fake punt. "Special teams definitely hurt us today."

Following a 21-yard run by Graham, Sunseri's touchdown pass to DeCicco gave the Panthers a 20-3 lead.

Craig McIntosh gave Kentucky a 3-0 lead with a 50-yard field goal, matching the longest of the sophomore's career, in the first quarter. The kick also was the longest in the five-year history of the bowl.

McIntosh missed from 41 yards in the fourth quarter.

There were offsetting personal fouls when players traded punches in the second quarter. Tempers flared when Pittsburgh was called for a false start and a Kentucky player hit Sunseri as officials attempted to stop the play. Pittsburgh's Jason Pinkston responded with a shove to set off the brawl.

Coaches from each team were successful in keeping players on the sidelines.

Cobb passed former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden's 2007 SEC record of 2,310 all-purpose yards. Cobb entered the game 119 yards behind McFadden's mark.

Cobb, who had three carries for 23 yards and five catches for 62 yards, added 119 yards on returns for 204 all-purpose yards. The junior said he'll make a decision on entering the NFL draft within a week.