SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah was wavering between stifling defense and play sloppy enough to blow an 11-point lead before Brian Blechen saved the Utes.
The freshman safety intercepted a pass on the first play of overtime, setting up Joe Phillips for a 21-yard field goal that gave the Utes a 27-24 victory against No. 15 Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
"The quarterback rolled out and looked to the flat and we were ready for that play," Blechen said of his read on Pitt's Tino Sunseri. "I saw it happening and just went for it."
Blechen bolted in front of Mike Shanahan and grabbed Sunseri's pass at the Utah sideline, keeping a late collapse at the end of regulation from deteriorating into something worse. It's a lot easier to deal with blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead when the result is a victory.
Pittsburgh had a much more bleak outlook as the Panthers filed out of the locker room toward the bus. Despite having a new quarterback in Sunseri and no run support to help him out in his first start, the Panthers still battled back to be in position to win at the end.
"We didn't play good enough to win. We really didn't," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Down the stretch Utah made less mistakes than we did."
That was a pretty good summary. The season opener was full of blunders -- 12 penalties for Pitt and 11 called on the Utes, turnovers at the most crucial moments and then failing to cash in on some great opportunities.
Pitt drove inside the Utah 10 twice, but went backward from there and had to settle for field goals by Dan Hutchins. Utah had second-and-goal from the 2 late in the second quarter, but didn't score at all because of an interception off a bad pass from Jordan Wynn into the end zone.
"We made enough mistakes in this game to lose it -- enough to lose two games," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Wynn passed for 283 yards with three touchdowns, including two to Jereme Brooks.
Wynn's third TD was a short pass over the middle that DeVonte Christopher broke for a 61-yard touchdown that put Utah up 24-13 with 7:59 left to play.
The comfortable margin didn't even last a minute.
The Panthers struck back on a 44-yard pass from Sunseri to Jon Baldwin, who was all alone inside the 10-yard line because of a breakdown in Utah's secondary. Sunseri went to Baldwin again for the 2-point conversion that pulled the Panthers within a field goal at 24-21 with 7:11 left to play.
Hutchins ended up having to kick the tying field goal three times. His first attempt went through the uprights, but Whittingham called time out just before the snap and Hutchins had to kick again.
Whittingham did the same thing on the re-kick, which was wide and had fans and Utah players celebrating before they learned there was yet another kick to come. This time Hutchins was back on target and tied it at 24.
But Blechen got the momentum and the ball back for the Utes with his pick in overtime and Utah to played it safe from there. The Utes never attempted another pass, running it down inside the 10 and leaving Phillips with a chip shot to win it.
Utah won its 18th straight, and other than a fourth quarter breakdown, did it mostly with defense. The Utes allowed few easy yards to Pitt star Dion Lewis, who ran for 1,799 yards last year as a freshman. He finished with 75 yards on 25 carries.
"We had a lot of missed opportunities. Our defense played their heart out. They played a great game," Lewis said. "We didn't convert. That's something we're going to have to work on."
Utah held Pitt to just 60 yards in the second and third quarters combined, but the Panthers' defense kept the Utes from building much of a lead with some timely stops of their own.
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