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at Pitt 35 ... Maine 29

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Posted Sep 10, 2011


Week 2 CFN Fearless Prediction & Game Story - Maine at Pitt

2011 Predictions & Game Story 

Week 2 - Maine at Pitt

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Sept. 10 at Pitt 35 ... Maine 29
CFN Analysis: COMING

(AP) PITTSBURGH -- Ray Graham ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns to lead Pittsburgh past Maine 35-29 on Saturday.

The junior running back added five receptions for another 30 yards for the Panthers (2-0), who struggled to put away the Black Bears (1-1).

Warren Smith passed for 334 yards and three touchdowns for Maine while receiver Derek Buttles added seven receptions for 148 yards and a score for the Black Bears, who never led but kept it interesting from start to finish.

Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 224 yards and two interceptions before giving way to true freshman Trey Anderson in the fourth quarter. Anderson, a walk-on who was offered a scholarship just before the season-opener against Buffalo, guiding the Panthers to a touchdown in his first series to provide some needed breathing room.

Turns out, Pitt needed every last bit of it.

Zach Brown appeared to put the game away with a 1-yard touchdown run to put Pitt up 35-15 with 8:39 to go.

Maine, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, simply wouldn't go away. The Black Bears scored on a 1-yard plunge by David Hood with 3:12 to go and Smith found Maurice McDonald for a 2-yard touchdown with three seconds remaining.

The Black Bears, however, were offsides on the ensuing onside kick and Pitt escaped thanks again to its star running back as coach Todd Graham's "high octane" attack operated in simple fits and starts.

The first-year coach was hoping his team would start working the kinks after an uneven debut against Buffalo a week ago.

Not quite yet.

Sunseri had trouble getting the ball downfield once again. The junior's longest completion was a 25-yard strike to tight end Hubie Graham.

Then again, Sunseri rarely had time to throw. Maine sacked him seven times and harassed him into throwing the ball away on a handful of other occasions.

Not exactly the kind of performance Todd Graham was looking for as Pitt prepares for the meat of its schedule. The Panthers travel to Iowa next Saturday before hosting Notre Dame and South Florida.

The Black Bears were supposed to be a chance at a tune-up. They gave Pitt plenty to work on. Ray Graham, who ran for 201 yards and three scores a week ago, again proved to be the only consistent weapon in the Panthers' arsenal. He scored on runs of 1, 3 and 1 yards, the last of which gave Pitt a 28-15 lead.

Pitt's defense made a stand and the Panthers quickly got the ball back, only this time Sunseri didn't lead them onto the field. Instead it was Anderson, who has gone from walk-on to scholarship player in the span of a month.

The next stop on his journey could be starter.

Anderson completed 4 of 5 passes on his first drive and showcased his arm strength when he heaved it 50 yards in the face of a hard-charging Maine rush. The ball fell incomplete, but the throw seemed to revive the Panthers.

Pitt quickly drove down the field, with Brown capping the drive with a touchdown. Anderson remained under center on Pitt's next drive while Sunseri stood on the sideline with his helmet pushed atop his head.

It creates a murky picture going forward even as Pitt improved to 10-0 all-time against FCS opponents while the Black Bears failed to beat a BCS conference team for the second time under coach Jack Cosgrove.

Maine shocked Mississippi State in 2004 and while the Black Bears never found a way in front, they provided plenty of fodder for the boos that showered the Panthers at times as they tried desperately to gain some traction.

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Maine (1-0) at Pittsburgh (1-0) Sept. 10, 1:00, ESPN3.com

Here’s The Deal … It’s going to take time for Pittsburgh to get up and running with its new, up-tempo offensive system under rookie head coach Todd Graham. That suggestion was evident throughout the Panthers’ uninspired 35-16 defeat of Buffalo over the weekend. Fortunate to be hosting a MAC opponent in Week 1, they started slowly and were dominated in time of possession. Another soft draw this Saturday affords Graham and his staff a much-needed chance to tinker before next Saturday’s telltale trip to face Iowa.

resh off a 28-13 victory over Bryant University of the Northeast Conference, Maine is poised for its first-ever meeting with Pitt. The Black Bears are coming off a 4-7 season that included a 38-14 defeat at the hands of Syracuse. Buried near the bottom of a deep and talented Colonial Athletic Association, the program is determined to make the climb back to respectability under long-time leader Jack Cosgrove.

Why Maine Might Win: The Black Bears will only go as far as the running game will take them this fall. They produced 155 yards and three touchdowns on the ground a week ago, getting most of their production from gifted senior RB Pushaun Brown. The Panthers defense, on the other hand, was surprisingly vulnerable against Buffalo, yielding over 400 yards and staying on the field far too long. The Bulls ran a whopping 93 plays, holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes. If Pitt fails to make key stops on third down, it’ll not only fuel Brown, but also breathe life into erratic Maine QB Warren Smith.

Why Pittsburgh Might Win: The Black Bears may have Brown, but the Panthers will confidently counter with their own big-time back, junior Ray Graham. He’s coming off his second career 200-yard rushing game, adding three touchdowns to spark a moribund offense. Maine is just soft enough in pass defense for Pitt QB Tino Sunseri to get back on track following a mediocre start to 2011. With all kinds of time in the pocket to look for the open man, he’ll move the ball around to receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan and H-back Hubie Graham. A sketchy Black Bears passing game will allow the Panthers to commit maximum resources to halting Brown’s forward progress.

What To Watch Out For: So what’s up with the Pitt D? A talented group on paper had all kinds of problems with QB Chazz Anderson, RB Branden Oliver and the rest of the Bulls offense. Plus, the Panthers produced just two sacks on 49 passing attempts. Was the opener an anomaly or a disturbing sign of things to come? They need rally and flex their muscles before the schedule veers in a different direction. Look for the leadership to come from veteran front seven, specifically hard-working tackles Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih.

What Will Happen: Pitt is after more than simply a victory, which will be well in hand before the break. It wants the kind of style points that signal improved overall execution. Both sides of the ball will heed the advice and admonitions of the coaching staff, with the offense clicking in the passing game and the D missing fewer tackles. Lewis will rush for 150 yards and a pair of scores, outperforming Brown on the ground to remain among the nation’s top rushers through two weeks.

CFN Prediction: Pittsburgh 48 … Maine 10
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