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Pitt struggles past Bobcats

PITTSBURGH

-- Rod Rutherford made an uneven debut as Pittsburgh's quarterback, completing two touchdown passes before halftime but also throwing three interceptions in an unimpressive 27-14 victory over Ohio on Saturday night.

The Panthers -- one of college football's hottest teams at the end of last season with six consecutive victories -- opened a 20-0 lead at halftime, then heard sporadic boos from the crowd of 41,579 as their offense bogged down in the second half.

Pittsburgh is 18-0 against the Mid-American Conference, but the Panthers often looked confused and out of sync against an Ohio U. team coming off a 1-10 season.

Chad Brinker, the Ohio senior tailback whose 2001 season was cut short by a brain operation, easily was the game's best offensive player, carrying 24 times for 119 yards and a 6-yard touchdown in his seventh career 100-yard game.

Brinker was averaging nearly 98 yards per game rushing through four games last season before needing an operation to remove a brain cyst. He spent part of his recovery time attending Pittsburgh Steelers' games at Heinz Field, where Saturday night's game was played.

Despite outgaining Pitt 283-193 behind Brinker's effective running, the Bobcats didn't have the depth to compete with Pitt, which is coming off consecutive bowl seasons for the first time since the 1980s. Five turnovers, all on interceptions, also didn't help.

Rutherford, known more as a runner than a thrower when he was a Pennsylvania high school player of the year, connected with Lamar Slade on a 26-yard scoring pass on Pitt's first possession.

But after the smooth start, Rutherford was intercepted on Pitt's next two possessions, and freshman Tyler Palko came in for one series.

Ohio drove to the Pitt 5 following Rutherford's first interception, but Dontrell Jackson was sacked for a 12-yard loss by Gerald Hayes on third-and-3 and the Bobcats (0-1) missed a 34-yard field goal attempt.

Rutherford then was intercepted again, one of two interceptions by Ohio's Bop White, but Jackson promptly was intercepted again, one of three pickoffs by Pitt's Shawntae Spencer.

That interception set up Rutherford's 9-yard shovel pass touchdown to running back Raymond Kirkley at 7:59 of the second. Later in the quarter, J.B. Gibboney and David Adbul, still competing for Pitt's kicking job, kicked field goals -- Gibboney from 37 yards and Abdul from 40.

Pitt's only second-half scoring came on Spencer's 48-yard interception return to the 2, with Lousaka Polite scoring a play later early in the fourth quarter.

Jackson was intercepted four times, one more than he was last season in 83 attempts. Fred Ray replaced Jackson in the fourth quarter and scrambled 18 yards for a touchdown with 8:02 remaining, cutting Pitt's lead to 27-14.

Coach Walt Harris improved to 6-0 in season openers at Pitt, which faces a considerably tougher challenge Saturday against No. 23 Texas A&M.

Ohio has lost its last seven games.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The first play was a 58-yard completion down the sideline -- a sweet pass and catch that not even you-know-who could have drawn up any better.

The rest of the game was a record-setting rout, and the Ron Zook era at sixth-ranked Florida got off to a shining start with a 51-3 victory over Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday.

One game in, Zook has found out what Steve Spurrier knew when he left for the Washington Redskins: It's hard to look bad as a coach when you've got Rex Grossman, Taylor Jacobs and Earnest Graham making plays on offense.

Jacobs, who considered leaving when Spurrier did, got one heck of a reward. With 246 yards, he broke the school single-game receiving record of 237, set by Carlos Alvarez in 1969. The mark had stood as one of the very few not rewritten during Spurrier's 12 seasons as coach.

No. 4 Tennessee 47, Wyoming 7

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Casey Clausen threw for 238 yards and a touchdown, and Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis each ran for two TDs as Tennessee routed Wyoming 47-7 Saturday.

Tennessee won its seventh consecutive opener and 16th straight non-conference game thanks to a defense that lost three defensive linemen to the NFL last April.

Missouri 33, Illinois 20

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Brad Smith ran for 138 yards and passed for 152 in his debut, leading Missouri to a 33-20 upset of Illinois on Saturday.

Zack Abron shrugged off two lost fumbles and ran for 116 yards and two touchdowns, and the Tigers' defense stuffed the defending Big Ten champions, who went 10-2 last year.

Illinois averaged a school-record 32 points last year but struggled under new quarterback Dustin Ward, the backup to Kurt Kittner the previous two seasons who was making his second career start. The Associated Press