Pittsburgh's fourth-ranked football team paid its first visit to new Mountaineer Stadium today, but borrowed a game plan from ancient times and played the type of game that would have made old coach Jock Sutherland proud.
Despite the absence of a completed pass, the Panthers dominated previously unbeaten West Virginia, 17-0, today for their fourth straight victory.
Coach Jackie Sherrill admitted that with quarterback Dan Marino sidelined with a sprained right shoulder, the pass was not part of his strategy. Dan Daniels, Marino's backup, failed to complete any of his six attempts.
The biggest cheer from the throng of 54,280 -- the largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in this state -- came when West Virginia's 303-piece marching band completed its dazzling pre-game performance.
Pitt, ranked No. l in the nation in total defense, gave up 46 yards rushing and 92 passing in giving the Mountaineers their first shutout in five years.
Safety Tom Flynn was the individual standout, intercepting two passes and making a jarring tackle on his own three that caused a fumble and halted West Virginia' only serious threat.
Bryan Thomas, a junior tailback who had gained only 73 yards in the first three games, scored both Pitt touchdowns. The first came on a 43-yard run late in the first quarter and the other was from two yards off right tackle with 1:48 left in the third quarter.
"When we learned the game plan, we knew the running game and the defense would have to carry us," said Thomas. "It was a big adjustment for our offensive line, which is used to pass-blocking so much, but it did a great job."
With Wayne DiBartola rushing for 103 yards and Thomas contributing 99, the Panthers outgained West Virginia, 203-138, in total offense although they got nothing from the passing game.
"Our players made a lot of sacrifices today," Sherrill said. "Our wide receivers knew they probably wouldn't have a ball thrown their way all day. Yet they went out, ran their patterns hard and did more blocking than they're used to.
"Once the players knew that Danny wasn't going to play, they knew everyone would have to play tougher. We made a lot of changes in our offense. We wanted to control the ball and not give them field position with any interceptions."
The Panthers had rolled over Illinois, Cincinnati and South Carolina by the combined score of 106-41 mainly on the strength of Marino's passing (60 of 102 passes for 820 yards and 13 touchdowns). After throwing six touchdown passes in last week's 42-28 victory at South Carolina, the junior sprained his throwing shoulder, and although he warmed up today, there was very little chance he would play.
"Danny couldn't throw the ball well enough; l0 yards was about his limit," said Sherrill. "I guess he could have gone in and handed off if we really needed him, but I didn't plan on playing him."
Daniels, a junior who hadn't thrown a pass all season, knew all about handing off. That was his job and DiBartola and Thomas made its successful.
Sherrill said this was the most conservative game plan he had ever taken into a game, but felt his offensive line was strong enough to wear down the Mountaineers and control the line of scrimmage.
"I didn't expect to win this game in the first quarter, or even the first half," he said. "But I felt sooner or later we could score on them. And I have great confidence in our defense."
Pitt had only five first downs and the game was scoreless with two minutes left in the first half when Thomas turned a simple off-tackle play into a 43-yard scoring run. The 185-pound junior shook off two tackles just past the line of scrimmage and cut to the left sideline. He got a block near the goal line and just ducked into the end zone near the sideline stripe.
"When I first got through the line, I ran into a couple of my blockers," he said. "I was surprised I was free, then I saw (split end Julius) Dawkins down by the sidelines and I ran to him, hoping he could screen off the defender. He did and I just got over before stepping out of bounds.
"We've always felt we had a strong running game, but not many people gave us credit before because we always had Danny passing," Thomas went on. "I think today we proved we're a well-rounded team, that we can win a lot of different ways."
The defense, of course, made it easy. West Virginia never was able to move the ball on the ground, and lost its only scoring opportunity when junior tailback Curlin Beck fumbled at the three and cornerback Pappy Thomas recovered in the end zone for the Panthers.
Linebacker Jeff Deem's interception and return to the Pitt 20 gave West Virginia another chance late in the third quarter, but quarterback Oliver Luck (16 of 36 and three interceptions) threw his first two passes out of bounds and almost had his third intercepted before Murat Tercan's was short with a 38-yard field goal attempt.
"I don't know where or how you can run on that defense," said West Virginia Coach Don Nehlen. "That defense is just murder. It's no wonder it's ranked among the best in the country."