PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh needed an emotional lift after two disappointing games against Mid-American Conference teams, so coach Dave Wannstedt turned to someone who knows all about winning -- Panthers basketball coach Jamie Dixon.
LeSean McCoy ran 27 yards for a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter despite being outrushed by Iowa's Shonn Greene in a matchup of top running backs as Pittsburgh rallied after losing a double-digit lead to beat the Hawkeyes 21-20 Saturday.
Pittsburgh, ranked No. 25 before squandering a 14-point lead during a 27-17 upset loss to Bowling Green in its season opener, got first-half scoring runs from quarterbacks Bill Stull and Greg Cross to avoid a losing record going into Big East play. The Panthers (2-1) play at Syracuse next Saturday.
The Panthers had lost 13 of their last 18 to major college opponents and started the season only 1-1 against Mid-American conference teams, scrambling to beat Buffalo 27-16 a week after losing to a MAC team at home for the first time in school history.
With the Panthers already at a pivotal point in their season, Wannstedt asked Dixon to deliver a motivational talk on Thursday. Afterward, several Panthers said a coach who has averaged nearly 27 wins in five seasons made them realize all they had to gain by winning.
"Coach Dixon told us this game could be a program builder, and we think it was," defensive lineman Mick Williams said. "I like that we won 21-20, a close game. A game we needed to win."
McCoy, who set a Big East freshman rushing record with 1,328 yards last season but still doesn't have a 100-yard game this season, gained 28 yards on a shovel pass ahead of his scoring run during the 80-yard drive that gave Pitt a 21-17 lead. The Panthers led 14-3 in the second quarter, only to have Greene lead two touchdown drives that put Iowa (3-1) up 17-14.
Greene's 6-yard scoring run made it 14-10. Later, Greene carried three times for 27 yards after a pass interference call on Aaron Berry gave Iowa a first down at the Panthers' 28, leading to quarterback Jake Christensen's 2-yard TD run and Iowa's only lead of the game with 5:33 remaining in the third.
"He [Greene] played excellent -- he's a Milford [Academy] guy like me -- but we won, though," McCoy said after being outrushed by Greene 147-78. "I didn't make this into an individual thing, like maybe I did last year against [Rutgers'] Ray Rice."
Despite helping Iowa to a 361-259 edge in total yardage, Greene was held to 14 yards in the fourth quarter during his fourth consecutive 100-yard game.
"That's the strength of our team right now," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Shonn gives us a chance to win every time we step on the field."
The Hawkeyes again used two quarterbacks. Ricky Stanzi (7-of-10, 79 yards) outplayed Christensen (12-of-24, 124 yards) in the first half only to have Christensen lead an important scoring drive in the third quarter, just as he did the week before in a 17-5 win over rival Iowa State.
"It's a gut feeling," Ferentz said of using only Christensen in the second half. "I thought he gave us the best opportunity to win the game."
In the first quarter, Cross scrambled 17 yards to score on his first career carry after McCoy's fumble led to the first of two Iowa field goals by freshman Trent Mossbrucker. After Iowa answered Stull's 6-yard scoring run with Greene's 6-yard touchdown, Iowa sophomore Daniel Murray was wide right on a 35-yard attempt with 1:21 remaining in the first half that Ferentz called "very makable."
"It felt good, I just pulled it," Murray said. "I didn't quite get around on it. This one hurt a little bit."
After that, Christensen couldn't lead any touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, and his fumble at the Hawkeyes' 28 in the final minute ended their final possession. Dave Brytus's 57-yard punt forced Iowa to start the drive at the 1-yard line.
"It's a great feeling to contribute like that," Brytus said.
Iowa didn't allow a touchdown in its first three games against a soft schedule and could have made a push for the Top 25 by winning on the road against a BCS conference opponent.
"This game could be a blessing or a curse for us," Christensen said. "We can either get better or fold. I think everybody in our locker room thinks we'll get better."
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