Pittsburgh (2-2) got 344 yards passing and three touchdowns from Tino Sunseri and and managed 626 total offensive yards - despite having three touchdowns drives that covered 35 yards or less in the game.
Sunseri completed 18-of-24 passes in an efficient effort, hitting three different receivers five times - including 144 yards and two scores to 6-foot-5 target Mike Shanahan.
The Runnin' Bulldogs had a chance to go on top first, but a promising drive stalled near the Pitt 20-yard line and Trever Austin's 40-yard field goal was just wide right. GWU picked up three first downs on the drive, which started at their own 40 after the defense forced a Panthers' punt.
Pitt took advantage, and standout back Ray Graham took a first-down handoff 78 yards to the house and a deflating early lead for the hosts with 3:23 left in the first quarter.
Momentum was taken back by the Runnin' Bulldogs quickly, with J.J. Hubbard taking the ensuing kickoff back 69 yards to the Pitt 29 and Austin closed the lead to 7-3 with a 41-yard field goal with 1:00 remaining in the opening quarter.
A long kickoff return by Pittsburgh led to a 41-yard field goal by Kevin Harper for a 10-3 lead with 14:32 to play before halftime and the Panthers took advantage of a fumble on a sky kick at the GWU 35 on the kickoff to add to that lead. Freshman Rushel Shell bulled over from the one-yard line after a pair of third-down conversions to make the score 16-3 and Harper's extra point put the Panthers up by two touchdowns.
A strange turn of events gave Pitt excellent field position again. The Panthers appeared to have intercepted a GWU pass at the Bulldogs' 35 on third down, but a video booth review reversed the call and allowed Gardner-Webb a chance to punt. Bo Lindsey's kick was rushed, and sailed out of bounds after only 17 yards to set Pittsburgh up with first down at the GWU 24-yard line.
Sunseri found a wide open Devin Street open in the back corner of the end zone one play later for a 24-yard scoring strike with 8:41 left before half - the Panthers' second touchdown drive of one play.
A 20-yard punt from the GWU end zone gave Pittsburgh a second golden opportunity in as many drives, setting the Panthers up with a first down just 29 yards away from the end zone. The Gardner-Webb defense held, forcing a 43-yard field goal by Harper that was wide left.
Gardner-Webb's defense stepped up again with Pittsburgh driving into scoring range, with Dylan Taylor forcing a fumble on a screen pass to Graham that Kamar Morrison scooped and scored from 65 yards away to trim the Pitt lead to 24-10 with 1:10 left in the half.
Pittsburgh moved quickly back into scoring position, however, riding Sunseri's arm all the way inside the Gardner-Webb five yard line with five seconds left. The Panthers chose to attempt a 22-yard field goal on third down and Harper slipped the kick inside the left upright as time expired for a 27-10 lead at intermission.
The second half saw Sunseri heat up again on the Panthers' first drive, going 4-of-4 for 63 yards and a four-yard scoring strike to Mike Shanahan with 10:16 to play in the quarter. The drive chewed up nearly five minutes in the process.
Gardner-Webb used a pair of Pitt penalties to get inside the Panther 40, but a deep pass by Lucas Beatty was picked off inside the 10-yard line to give the home team possession with 2:18 left in the third.
An end around by Devin Street got Pittsburgh going again, and Sunseri found Shanahan down the right sideline for a 77-yard scoring strike and a 41-10 lead with 1:00 left in the quarter.
A sack and fumble by Beatty early in the fourth quarter gave Pitt first and goal at the Gardner-Webb five, and Isaac Bennett bulled in from three yards out to put the hosts up 48-10 with 13:37 to play.
Bennett capped another scoring drive for the Panthers with 9:03 left, as he coasted into the end zone from 11 yards out to cap a 68-yard march and the final score of the game.
Gardner-Webb was limited to 127 yards of total offense (32 rushing on 29 carries) and gave up 50 points to an FBS opponent for the first time in nine games against the larger subdivision. Beatty finished 14-of-22 for 95 yards and was sacked three times. Juanne Blount had 11 carries for 36 yards on the ground.
Gardner-Webb, off to its first 0-4 start since the 1996 season, will enjoy an open date next weekend before opening Big South Conference play at Liberty on Saturday, October 6 at 3:30 pm. The Flames also fell to 0-4 Saturday night with their loss to Lehigh in Lynchburg.