People stayed away from Pitt Stadium today. Brigham Young couldn't be much good, they reasoned, if its starting quarterback was a guy few fans have heard of.
Robbie Bosco, the successor to record-setting Steve Young, indeed looked so nervous early in the game it was a wonder he could take snaps from center. But his 50-yard touchdown pass to Adam Haysbert with 1:37 left lifted unranked, rebuilding BYU to a startling 20-14 upset over No. 3 Pitt.
Bosco, a junior from Roseville, Calif., was starting his first game and missed four of his first five passes. But he finished with 25 completions in 43 attempts for 325 yards and the game-winning touchdown before only 40,263.
"The kid really got confident and came on at the end," Pitt Coach Foge Fazio said. "He showed a whole lot of poise toward the end of the game."
The Cougars had converted only two of 11 third-down plays all afternoon. But this time, on third and four from just short of midfield, free safety Bill Callahan cheated close to the line, expecting Bosco to throw underneath the zone coverage, near the first-down marker.
"During my cadence I could see their free safety come up," Bosco said. "It's our '63' play. We have one guy running a post and another slanting across the middle. He (Callahan) kind of got lost and I just went for the post."
BYU Coach Lavell Edwards said he was hoping Bosco would complete a first-down pass and continue the drive to get into field goal range. But Callahan's mixup left cornerback Keith Tinsley without help. Haysbert, open by a couple of steps, caught the ball at the 20 and ran in untouched.
"We thought their defensive backs might get screwed up in the traffic of our motion, and it happened," said Haysbert.
The BYU players were obviously delighted, not just with winning but with beating Pitt at home, and with winning a game "out here in the East" where people have tended to dismiss Brigham Young as a pretty good team in a Western Athletic Conference.
"I heard on the news here that Brigham Young was supposed to be a third-class type of football power," Bosco said. "Everybody said Pitt would blow us away. A lot of people figured it would be such a bad game, it wouldn't be worth coming. Well, they missed a good game."
Haysworth said, "We were pumped. We knew nobody respected us out here. But to win here, we've proven something, to a point."
Pitt, with the aid of a controversial pass interference call, mounted a final drive after Bosco's touchdown pass. But substitute quarterback John Cummings was sacked en masse at the BYU 30 on fourth down with 40 seconds left.
That left Fazio to say afterward, "The team that won the national championship last year (Miami) lost the first game. It's a long season."
BYU's victory was such a shock because the Cougars lost almost every significant player from last year's team that won 11 straight games after losing the opener. BYU lost not only Young but its three top receivers and three best running backs. BYU did enter the game with the third-best record among college football teams in the last five years, but Pitt was second.
The Cougars held a 3-0 lead at halftime because of Lee Johnson's 37-yard field goal, and some strange play selection from the Panther signal callers, who didn't seem to realize they had a 285-pound tackle/bludgeon named Bill Fralic.
Despite Pitt's offensive inefficiency, it led, 14-3, in the third quarter on the strength of two interceptions.
Callahan intercepted Bosco and returned the ball 78 yards for a touchdown, giving Pitt a 7-3 lead with 11:35 to play in the third quarter.
One minute later, Bosco threw a pass that bounced off receiver Glen Kozlowski's chest and into the arms of Tinsley, who returned his interception 20 yards to the 20. Fullback Marc Bailey -- finally Pitt ran behind Fralic on an important play -- scored from one yard to make it 14-3.
BYU pulled to 14-9 on a 12-yard touchdown run by fullback Lakei Heimuli. Bosco's two-point conversion pass was no good.
The Cougars' defense, which was outstanding most of the day, held Pitt on the next series. Then the Cougars drove close enough for Lee Johnson to kick a 23-yard field goal with 9:15 left and make it 14-12.
Pitt's next drive ended with Bailey's failing to get two yards on third and three. Again, Pitt did not try to run behind Fralic, who is generally regarded as the best offensive lineman in the country.
After a 50-yard punt, the Cougars started the game-winning drive from their 25.
"Obviously, I am very pleased that we won the game," Edwards said, "but it was the way we won it that impressed me the most. We came back after making some pretty big mistakes and that's the making of a fine team.
"I knew our defense would give us an effort like this," he said. "Pitt has a lot of weapons but we kept them in check."
Fazio, who now has to prepare his team for Oklahoma, expected more from his running game.
"The only time we moved the ball for a score was on that 20-yard touchdown drive," he said. Halfback Chuck Scales led Pitt in rushing with 44 yards; Bailey ran for 43. The Panthers rushed for 162 yards in 47 carries.
Pitt quarterback John Congemi completed 17 of 32 passes for 171 yards, leaving the game just before the final series with various bruises.