2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - Buffalo at Pitt
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Sept. 3 at Pitt 36 … Buffalo 16
CFN Analysis: This couldn’t have been the way Todd Graham wanted to kick off his era, but the offense perked up in the second half just in time to put the game away. QB Tino Sunseri was fine, and Ray Graham was tremendous with 201 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries, but the offense almost never had the ball. Buffalo controlled the clock for almost 39 minutes with third down conversion after third down conversion, and while the Panther defense stiffened when needed, this wasn’t a good sign with Iowa coming up in a few weeks. The front line has to get more of a pass rush, and while Brandon Lindsey got a sack and seven tackles, there needs to be more pressure from the front line.
Buffalo did almost everything right against the Panthers, but the offense forgot to score. Chazz Anderson threw it 49 times and Branden Oliver hammered out a tough 114 yards on 35 carries, but the points didn’t come despite long drive after long drive. Linebacker Khalil Mack had a terrific game with five tackles, a sack, a tackle for los, and a forced fumble, and the defense battled well, but it got shoved around way too easily and the Pitt ground game controlled the action – when it had the ball. The Bulls came up with a good effort, and it should be able to roll against Stony Brook next week, but after a disastrous offensive year, the offense has to find some way to get in the end zone to take advantage of every opportunity.
(AP) PITTSBURGH -- Ray Graham ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns as Pittsburgh kicked off new coach Todd Graham's tenure with a 35-16 victory over Buffalo on Saturday night.
Tino Sunseri threw for 179 yards and a score for the Panthers, who needed a full half to find their legs while playing in their coach's uptempo system.
Pitt broke it open in the third quarter behind Ray Graham, who scored on runs of 3 and 5 yards to help Pitt get some breathing room. He later added a 1-yard plunge to complete the second 200-yard game of his career.
Cincinnati transfer Chazz Anderson threw for 276 yards and ran for a touchdown for Buffalo, but also threw a costly interception in the third quarter that allowed Pittsburgh to finally break loose. Branden Oliver ran for a career-high 114 yards and a score for the Bulls.
Todd Graham has dubbed his brand of football "high-octane" and promised if his offense could run 80 plays a game it would score at least five touchdowns.
The Panthers only needed 66 snaps to produce five scores against the Bulls, but the high-octane performance will have to wait as Pitt operated in fits and starts for long stretches against a MAC team coming off a miserable 2-10 season.
Pitt operated quickly, as Graham promised, just not always efficiently. The Panthers often went just 15-18 seconds in between snaps but struggled to produce quality with their quantity.
Not that they didn't try. Sunseri went deep on the first play of the season but overthrew an open Mike Shanahan by a good five yards, a recurring theme for most of the night as Sunseri struggled with his accuracy. He completed 16 of 28 passes, almost all of them underneath routes his receivers turned into solid if not explosive gains.
His best play was handing the ball off to Ray Graham, who has embraced the expectations that come with following in the footsteps of former Pitt stars Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis.
The Panthers needed to rely on Graham after an uneven first half in which they managed just one touchdown, missed two field goals and had Sunseri punt -- yes, punt -- twice rather than go for it on fourth down in Buffalo territory.
Buffalo trailed just 7-3 at the half and started the third quarter by driving to the Pitt 31. Facing third-and-11, Anderson tried to throw a screen pass. The ball ended up in the hands of Pitt defensive lineman Chas Alecxih, who returned it 47 yards to the Buffalo 20.
The Panthers needed just two plays -- both Graham runs -- to open up a 14-3 lead.
The Bulls responded with a 2-yard run by Anderson but Pitt came right back as Graham capped a 74-yard drive with a 5-yard burst up the middle.
Oliver, who carried the ball a clock-chewing 35 times, pulled Buffalo within 21-16 with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 13:26 to play. The two-point conversion failed and Pitt got the ball at the 40 when the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds.
Sunseri deftly guided the Panthers 60 yards in six plays, the last one a 17-yard strike to Shanahan. Buffalo's Ed Young dropped a sure touchdown on the Bulls' next possession, and Graham finished off his day with a 74-yard run to set up his final touchdown.
Alex Neutz had 10 receptions for 108 yards for the Bulls while Anderson completed 32 of 49 passes. Buffalo dominated time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes, but couldn't produce the big plays when it needed them.
Buffalo (0-0) at Pittsburgh (0-0) Sept. 3, 6:00, ESPN3.com
Here’s The Deal … For the first time in seven years, Dave Wannstedt won’t be on the sidelines for Pitt. Saturday night’s visit from Buffalo will mark the beginning of the Todd Graham era in the Steel City, and life within the program may never be the same. Going from Wanny to Graham is like trading in the old Caddy for a sporty convertible. The Panthers, tired of residing in the middle of the Big East pecking order, took a bold step by hiring a coach with a reputation for inventive offenses and attacking defenses. The locals get a first glance at how well the holdovers have digested playbooks that hardly resemble the ones from the old regime. Jeff Quinn gets his second chance to prove that he was the right choice to succeed Turner Gill at Buffalo. The Bulls slumped to 2-10 a year ago, reverting back to the dark days prior to Gill’s hiring in 2006. Now that the squad has a better grasp on his system, there’s a sense that it’ll be in a better position to compete in the MAC East.
Why Buffalo Might Win: Unlike a year ago, Quinn feels he has a quarterback capable of running his offense efficiently. The coach is reuniting with 22-year-old veteran Chazz Anderson, who cut his teeth at Cincinnati before transferring in an attempt to secure playing time before running out of eligibility. He gives the Bulls a heady leader, who can make plays with his feet or connect through the air with receivers Marcus Rivers and Alex Neutz. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on that Buffalo defense as well, which has holes to fill, but also can harass opposing ground games with DE Steven Means and LB Khalil Mack.
Why Pittsburgh Might Win: While Graham’s offense will get the bulk of the attention, it’s his defense that’ll set the tone for at least the first half of the year. Wannstedt leaves behind a terrific group that includes eight returning starters and a handful of future pros. The Jarred Holley-led secondary will limit big plays through the air, and the front line will dominate a suspect group of Bulls. DE Brandon Lindsey and tackles Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein will force Anderson to employ every ounce of his athleticism to escape pressure. If the passing attack sputters at times, the Panthers are confident in the skills of Ray Graham, who’ll have the luxury of running behind an experienced line that knows how to create daylight.
What To Watch Out For: Whether or not the new staff can win a Big East title in its debut will hinge on the play of QB Tino Sunseri. Recruited to run a more conservative pro-style attack, the junior will be asked to become a little more mobile and adaptable with his skill set. So far, so good. He’s impressed the coaches with his quick retention of the system, and with his ability to get the ball in the hands of top receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan.
What Will Happen: As far as head coaching debuts go, Graham is going to be pleased with his at Heinz Field. The Panthers have had the kind of offseason that indicates they’ve adjusted rather quickly to all of the changes. The retooled offense gets a manageable test from Buffalo, which means at least 100 yards rushing for Graham and a sharp effort out of Sunseri. And the defense will be too much for a Bulls offense that won’t begin showing improvement until the conference portion of the schedule begins.
CFN Prediction: Pittsburgh 41 … Buffalo 10
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