EL PASO, Texas (AP)—Three points, 20 punts and 10 sacks. Go ahead and say it was unsightly, but Oregon State coach Mike Riley saw nothing short of a masterpiece.
In the lowest-scoring major bowl game in a half-century, the 24th-ranked Beavers shut down No. 18 Pittsburgh 3-0 Wednesday in the Sun Bowl on Justin Kahut’s 44-yard field goal.
“That’s the game we were in,” Riley said. “We played that game. We ended up winning it. Some people will call it ugly, but I can’t.”
The defensive struggle went on all day. Pitt kicker Connor Lee tried a 58-yard field goal in the closing minutes but the ball, helped by a steady wind, dropped just short of the crossbar.
“I had more confidence in a 58-yard field goal try than going for it on fourth-and-8,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “I wanted to give out team a chance. I really thought he could kick it.”
Not since Air Force and TCU played to 0-0 standoff in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1959, had a bowl produced so few points. It was also the lowest-scoring Sun Bowl since a scoreless tie in 1940 between Catholic and Arizona State.
“We were three downs and out way too much,” Riley said. “We put a terrific burden on our defense and we put a lot of burden on the punt team. They came through. That’s the game we were in and we played that game. We ended up winning it.”
The Beavers (9-4) improved to 5-0 in bowls since Riley began his second stint as their coach in 2003. Kahut provided the only points with his kick shortly before halftime.
Riley liked the way his team rebounded from a 65-38 loss to rival Oregon that denied Oregon State a Rose Bowl berth.
“Guys sulked for a bit,” Beavers defensive end Victor Butler said. “But in the end you’ve got to get your head in the game. You’ve got to go play football because the other team wants to play and win just as much as you do.”
Riley stood at the interview table and added: “That is well said.”
Pitt (9-4), making its first bowl appearance since the 2004 season and the first under Wannstedt, led the Big East in scoring this season, averaging 29.3 points per game. The Panthers managed just 178 total yards.
“We couldn’t get anything on offense started at all,” standout tailback LeSean McCoy said. “We played horribly.”
There was no sign of offense in El Paso, not with McCoy held to 85 yards rushing after averaging 116.9 yards per game this season. Quarterback Bill Stull was 7-for-24 for 52 yards with one interception.
“When you talk about our defense, that was a beautiful performance against a running back that some said was one of the best in the country,” Riley said.
The Beavers also won without their spectacular brothers, tailback Jacquizz Rodgers and receiver James Rodgers, both out with shoulder injuries.
“We have a lot of athletes who can step in,” quarterback Lyle Moevao said. “Without those guys, it was definitely a big loss but we were still able to manage the game.”
Reserve tailback Jeremy Francis had 76 yards rushing and Moevao was 21-for-42 for 193 yards passing with two interceptions. The Beavers finished with 273 total yards.
The Panthers finally got a spark early in the fourth quarter when T.J. Porter returned a punt 36 yards to Oregon State’s 42.
But three plays later, the big return was wasted because Butler, who had four sacks, stripped Stull and recovered the fumble.
“It’s an understatement to say how much he impacted this game,” Riley said.
Oregon State led 3-0 after Kahut connected on his field goal with 2:18 remaining before halftime. He later missed a 37-yard attempt midway through the third period.
The Beavers came up empty on the best touchdown opportunity by either team. Officials ruled tight end John Reese was out of bounds on an apparent 9-yard TD reception 10 seconds before the break.
“This is the game it turned out to be,” Riley said. “It didn’t have to be 3-0. We missed some red-zone opportunities.”
The call was upheld after a replay review, and on the next play, Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop—the Big East defensive player of the year— intercepted Moevao’s pass in the end zone.
“We left a couple of plays on the field today,” McKillop said. “We just didn’t come out in the second half and set the tone.”