PITTSBURGH - Paul Chryst won over his players at Pittsburgh with a refreshing bluntness that has given the beleaguered program a sense of calm.
Winning games, apparently, is going to take a little while longer.
Maybe a lot longer.
Youngstown State spoiled Chryst's debut with the Panthers, outclassing Pitt in nearly every area in an emphatic 31-17 upset on Saturday night.
"My hat goes off to Youngstown State," Chryst said. "They are very well coached. They're a good team. Tonight, they were the better team."
The Penguins, a Football Championship Subdivision program, beat a Bowl Championship Series team for the first time in school history behind an offense that frustrated the Panthers from the start.
Kurt Hess passed for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Andre Stubbs had 172 all-purpose yards and two scores for Youngstown State.
"In our locker room, we believed we could do it," Hess said. "We believe in each other. It's easily the biggest win of our careers."
This wasn't a last-second stunner. The Penguins never trailed, baffling Pitt with a spread offense that kept the Panthers off balance during a soggy night at Heinz Field. Youngstown State converted 11 of 16 third downs and held the ball for more than 35 minutes.
"I don't want to take anything away from their victory, but that's not the real Pitt out there," said Panthers defensive back Andrew Taglianetti. "It's definitely frustrating that you work so hard on first and second down and then third down comes up and they were converting them."
Tino Sunseri threw for 239 yards and a score for Pitt, but the Panthers had no answer for the Penguins while losing to a FCS program for the first time.
Pitt committed two turnovers - including one by senior running back Ray Graham deep in Youngstown State territory - and couldn't produce a big play when it needed one.
"I don't feel like we were dominated," Chryst said. "I don't feel like we were getting hammered. But we did not dominate, by any means, either side of the ball."
The Panthers brought in Chryst in January hoping the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator could bring a sense of calm to a program that went through three coaches in 15 months.
Chryst admits he's learning on the job, and he suspended six players before kickoff for disciplinary reasons, including freshman running back Rushel Shell, the leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. Chryst would only say, "we have some matters we need to take care of," and declined to say whether any of the suspensions will extend into Thursday's Big East opener at Cincinnati.
Graham returned from a torn ACL in his right knee that cut short his 2011 season to rush for 71 yards on 14 carries, but had the costly fumble and only broke one big run against a defense that struggled last season.
They're not struggling anymore, however.
Youngstown State, which won four FCS titles in the '90s, is looking to rebuild under third-year coach Eric Wolford. Consider the project well ahead of schedule. The Penguins scored the first two times it had the ball en route to a 14-10 halftime lead, putting together scoring drives of 79 and 92 yards.
Then the Penguins got bold.
With Hess deftly taking them downfield to open the second half, Youngstown State faced a fourth-and-1 from the Pitt 23. Hess pitched the ball to tailback Jamaine Cook, who pulled up and hit a wide open Will Shaw for a score to put the Penguins up 21-10.
"We weren't going to kick it," Wolford said.
The Panthers never recovered.
Pitt tried to answer Youngstown State's score with a gamble of its own midway through the third quarter. Only Isaac Bennett stutter-stepped and never came close on fourth-and-1 from the Penguins' 21. Hess responded by guiding another lengthy drive, capped by 13-yard burst by Stubbs that gave Youngstown State a 28-10 lead.
Though the Panthers pulled within 28-17 on a 35-yard strike from Sunseri to Joshua Brinson, they would get no closer. Youngstown State added a late field goal for the final margin as the Chryst era began with a thud.
"It's in our hands to go forward," Chryst said. "I believe this group can go forward and we will go forward."
Youngstown St.7 7 7 10-31
Pittsburgh7 3 0 7-17
YSU-Stubbs 27 pass from Hess (Brown kick), 8:25.
Pitt-Bennett 4 run (Harper kick), 2:47.
YSU-Shaw 14 pass from Hess (Brown kick), 10:14.
Pitt-FG Harper 33, 6:13.
YSU-Shaw 23 pass from Cook (Brown kick), 12:07.
YSU-Stubbs 13 run (Brown kick), 12:21.
Pitt-Brinson 35 pass from Sunseri (Harper kick), 9:17.
YSU-FG Brown 25, 3:02.
Time of Possession35:1024:50
RUSHING-Youngstown St., Cook 21-84, Stubbs 6-71, Hess 9-35, Pace 6-22, Team 4-(minus 8). Pittsburgh, R.Graham 14-71, Bennett 10-42, Sunseri 4-17.
PASSING-Youngstown St., Hess 13-23-0-154, Cook 1-1-0-23. Pittsburgh, Sunseri 19-30-0-239.
RECEIVING-Youngstown St., Stubbs 4-61, Shaw 3-51, Cook 2-19, Bryan 2-7, Disher 1-18, Adams 1-16, Caver 1-5. Pittsburgh, Shanahan 6-54, Street 4-51, H.Graham 4-38, Saddler 2-36, Brinson 1-35, Holtz 1-20, Giubilato 1-5.