Pittsburgh's defense, sparked by tackle Dave Puzzuoli's interception and 95-yard touchdown run, led the third-ranked Panthers to a 20-3 victory at Illinois yesterday.
Pitt held the Illini runners to net losses of 27 yards, sacked quarterback Tony Eason nine times and intercepted five passes to stop No. 19 Illinois' usually potent passing. Puzzuoli had two of the sacks and shared in two others.
"They just knocked us upside down on offense," said Illinois Coach Mike White. "We didn't allow for the fact their defense was just going to shove us all over town."
Puzzuoli scored in the second quarter with Pitt (3-0) trailing, 3-0, and Illinois (3-1) on the verge of scoring.
"I was surprised," said the 6-foot-3, 248-pound senior. "The ball was just in my chest. I didn't have time to think."
"I must have had the wind at my back (on the run). I was just waiting for someone to catch me."
The Panthers then put the game out of reach as quarterback Dan Marino threw 15 yards to John Brown for a touchdown, and Eric Schubert kicked two field goals.
The Illinois defense was strong, too, intercepting Marino four times, twice in the end zone.
Marino, who had good protection, completed 18 of 35 passes for 215 yards. Eason, who got little help from his offensive line, completed 30 of 58 for 275.
Marino, who threw an interception that set up the Illinois field goal, had another pass picked off in the end zone by Charles Armstead. His 30-yard return set up the Illini's deepest drive. Illinois appeared to be stalled, and Chris Sigourney punted, but Pitt's Tom Flynn dropped the ball and Luke Sewall recovered for Illinois on the Panthers' 16.
Puzzuoli silenced the sellout crowd of 71,547 when he intercepted Eason's pass and put Pitt ahead to stay.