EAST LANSING, Mich. – Pitt found success when it abandoned the quarterback position in the second half in favor of direct snaps to the tailback, but the Panthers couldn’t protect the ball when they needed to most.
Pitt was plagued by four turnovers – two fumbles and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown – in a 17-13 loss to Michigan State Saturday afternoon before 68,620 here at Spartan Stadium.
Pitt had one last chance with three seconds remaining, but Kevan Smith’s desperation pass intended for receiver Oderick Turner was broken by Michigan State free safety Roderick Jenrette in the end zone as time expired.
Michigan State (3-0) outgained Pitt, (2-1) 327-292, in total yards, but the Panthers rushed for 207 yards on 38 carries behind the play of freshman tailback LeSean McCoy.
McCoy, making in his first career start in replacing the injured LaRod Stephens-Howling (bruised ribs), rushed for 172 yards on 25 carries and had a 64-yard touchdown run.
McCoy’s 172 yards were the seventh-most rushing yards by a freshman in Pitt history. Tony Dorsett holds the Pitt single-game freshman rushing record with 265 yards against Northwestern in 1973. McCoy had 115 yards on 12 carries in the first half. It was the second consecutive 100-yard game by McCoy, who had 107 against Grambling State last week.
The Pitt defense stopped Michigan State 255-pound running back Jehuu Caulcrick on a fourth-and-2 at Pitt’s 24. On Pitt’s first play, however, receiver T.J. Porter fumbled when he was hit by defensive end Jonal Saint-Dic on an end-around. The ball was recovered by nose tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo at Pitt’s 22.
Five plays later, Brett Swenson kicked a 23-yard field goal to give Michigan State a 17-13 lead with 3:00 left. Michigan State took advantage of two Kevan Smith interceptions for a 14-7 halftime lead. Free safety Otis Wiley intercepted Smith and returned it to the Pitt 35 with four seconds left in the first quarter.
On the next play, Spartans quarterback Brian Hoyer completed a 32-yard pass to tight end Kellen Davis. Three plays later, Jehuu Caulcrick scored on a 2-yard run to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead with 14:15 remaining.
Pitt answered with a 64-yard touchdown run by McCoy to tie the game. It was the Panthers’ longest touchdown run since LaRod Stephens-Howling had a 70-yarder against Syracuse last October. McCoy was starting in place of Stephens-Howling (bruised ribs), who did not dress.
Another Smith interception led to a Spartans touchdown, as his third-down pass deflected off the hands of receiver Oderick Turner and into those of free safety Travis Key, who returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and 14-7 lead.
McCoy led the Panthers to an 11-play, 56-yard scoring drive capped by Conor Lee’s 41-yard field goal that cut Michigan State’s lead to 14-10 with 2:13 remaining.
McCoy led a drive deep into Michigan State territory but a 15-yard facemask penalty gave the Panthers a first-and-goal at the 23. Pitt settled for a 29-yard field goal by Lee to cut it to 14-13 with 7:47 remaining.