Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — On its second play, Rutgers found the offense that was missing all season. Nationally ranked Pittsburgh? The No. 17 Panthers haven’t played so poorly on defense since the second Johnny Majors era a dozen years ago.
Mike Teel, booed at times by his own fans this season, threw five of his school-record six touchdown passes in the first half and Rutgers came out throwing to confound Pittsburgh’s previously reliable defense during a stunningly easy 54-34 victory Saturday.
Teel, a senior who had only three touchdown passes in seven games, found Kenny Britt on scoring plays of 79, 7 and 26 yards and Tim Brown for 60 and 36 yards, all against what was the Big East’s top-ranked and nation’s 10th-rated pass defense.
“It makes you wonder where it’s been all year,” Teel said.
Or where it’s been for 20 years — Rutgers hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent on the road since a 21-16 win over then-No. 15 Penn State on Sept. 24, 1988.
Pitt hadn’t allowed so many points since a 60-6 loss to Notre Dame in 1996, the final year of Majors’ second turn as coach, or so many at home since Virginia Tech and Ohio State scored 63 on successive weeks in 1993, Majors’ first year back.
“Coming into the game, I thought this was going to be a 17-10 game one way or the other,” said fourth-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, whose team hadn’t lost since being upset 27-17 by Bowling Green in its opener. “It’s the most disappointing defensive performance we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Teel hit Brown for the 60-yard score on Rutgers’ first possession and, about six minutes later, Britt for 79 yards as the Pitt defenders constantly were confused by play-action throws with Teel on the move. All of Britt’s TDs came in the first half as the Scarlet Knights opened a 34-24 halftime lead.
“I think the first series was the turning point, we had a chance to make a play and we finally made it,” Teel said. “It’s been an overthrow here, a missed block there all season but we finally put it all together.”
Brown’s 36-yard TD catch made it 41-31 and came one play after Aaron Berry’s fumbled punt midway through the third quarter. LeSean’ McCoy’s fourth touchdown run had put Pittsburgh (5-2, 2-1 in Big East) within a field goal of tying it at 34-31.
On Pitt’s next possession, quarterback Bill Stull’s neck snapped backward as he was hurried by defensive back David Row on an incompletion and struck McCoy in the back. Stull lay motionless for several minutes as players from both teams knelt in front of their benches, but he flashed a thumbs-up while leaving on a stretcher.
Tests revealed no injuries, though Stull planned to stay overnight in a Pittsburgh hospital for precautionary reasons.
“It looks like he’s going to be fine,” Wannstedt said.
Pat Bostick took over to drive Pitt to the 17, only to throw an interception that Kevin Malast returned 74 yards to the 17. Kordell Young went on to score from the 8, and Young later added a 4-yard TD run.
Rutgers (3-5, 2-2) scored within the first three plays of a drive five times, three times on the first play, after being held to 17 points or fewer five times during its first seven games. The Scarlet Knights may have picked up on some bad habits by Pitt’s defensive backs last week during a 42-21 romp at Navy, which threw only eight times.
“I’ve been there myself. You get ready for Navy and now, all of a sudden, you win that game and you’ve got to get ready for a traditional offense,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “It’s not easy.”
Teel made it look easy, going 14-of-21 for 361 yards while breaking the previous Rutgers record of five TD passes held by two others. He began going after defensive backs Jovani Chappel and Eric Thatcher immediately after McCoy scored on a 33-yard run on the third play from scrimmage, throwing for 321 yards in the first half.
Britt finished with five catches for 143 yards and Brown four for 132 as both took advantage of man-to-man coverage.
“You can’t look at anybody else. You can’t look at the linebackers, you can’t look at the coaches, you have to look at the four guys in the secondary,” Thatcher said. “We need to be able to cover people.”
Britt said Teel’s teammates sensed a difference in him following a 12-10 win over Connecticut last week in which the quarterback drew some boos.
“If we were at home, I would have got ran out of the stadium,” Teel of throwing an interception that proved insignificant.
Pittsburgh was denied its first six-game winning streak since the end of the 2001 season and failed to stay ahead of West Virginia (5-2, 2-0) and Cincinnati (6-1, 2-0) in a now-jumbled Big East race. Rutgers beat the Panthers for a fourth consecutive season and won in successive visits to Pittsburgh for the first time.
McCoy ran for 146 yards and his four scoring runs gave him 28 TDs in his first two seasons, four more than former Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett during his freshman and sophomore years in 1973-74.
MIKE TEEL PLAYER NOTES
Teel became the first player in BIG EAST history to throw five touchdown passes in the first half in a league game.
Teel broke the school record with six touchdown passes in a game. Mike McMahon (Sept. 2, 2000 against Villanova) and Rich Policastro (Nov. 22, 1969 against Colgate) previously held the record with five TD passes.
Teel is only the fourth player in BIG EAST history to throw six touchdowns in a BIG EAST game.
Teel finished the first half 12-for-15 for 311 yards and five touchdowns with one interception.
Teel finished with a career-high 361 yards passing. It was the seventh 300-yard passing game of his career.
Teel moved into a tie with Ray Lucas (1992-95) for the second-most touchdown passes in Rutgers’ history with his six-touchdown performance against the Panthers. He now has 43 career TD passes.
Teel passed West Virginia’s Marc Bulger (1996-99) and Temple’s Henry Burris (1993-96) and moved into seventh place in BIG EAST history with his performance at Pittsburgh. He now has 7,688 yards.
Teel passed Syracuse’s Donovan McNabb (1995-98) for seventh place on the BIG EAST career completions list with 551.
Teel passed Temple’s Henry Burris (1993-96) and moved into eighth place on the BIG EAST career total offense list with 7,503 yards.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.