Pitt football fans have been anticipating Todd Graham’s new system since he arrived at Pitt in January and told everybody who would listen that he was installing a high-tempo offense and defense. His season debut at Pitt finally arrived on Saturday with pluses and minuses.
The Panthers (1-0) struggled offensively in the first half and slipped defensively in the second half, but ultimately did what they needed to do and pulled off a 35-16 win over visiting MAC opponent Buffalo (0-1) at a muggy Heinz Field in front of 48,359.
“Half of the teams in the country have a loss right now and we’re not one of them,” Graham said. “Anytime you get a win in college football, that’s awesome.”
Kevin Harper missed two field goals in the first half and Tino Sunseri was not able to connect on two long passes to Pitt receivers that got behind Bulls defenders which bogged down the Panthers first half effort. They went into halftime only up 7-3. Zach Brown scored the touchdown on a 6-yard run late in the first quarter.
“We missed a lot of opportunities and misread some plays,” Graham said. “Our field goal kicking was not good in the first half and we got really close on a couple long balls with nobody behind them.”
Running back Ray Graham made the most of his opportunities though and ran for 209 yards and scored three second-half touchdowns on 29 carries. His longest run of the day was a 75 yard scamper with two minutes left that set up his third touchdown, a one-yard burst to put Pitt ahead 35-16.
“I got tackled a couple times in the backfield but didn’t get discouraged and just kept pushing it,” Graham said. “We got things going in the second half and on that 75-yard run, the hole opened up like the Red Sea.”
Buffalo was able to sustain drives in the second half by catching the Panther defense off guard but Bulls quarterback Chazz Anderson was not able to fool Pitt defensive lineman Chas Alecxih on a screen pass attempt early in the third quarter.
Buffalo was trailing 7-3 and had driven 49 yards to the Pitt 31 but Anderson was pressured and tossed it into Alecxih’s waiting hands after the lineman dropped back into coverage. Alexcih lumbered 47 yards to the Buffalo 20 yard line to set up the Panthers second touchdown and first score of the second half.
“Buffalo ran that screen in the first quarter and I didn’t read it right that time, but when they tried it again in the second half, I read it that time,” Alexcih said. “It’s hard to say if that was my biggest play at Pitt but it definitely felt the best.”
Anderson attempted 49 passes in the game, completing 32 of them for 276 yards. Sunseri completed 16 passes on 28 attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown, which as a 17-yard pass to Mike Shanahan early in the fourth quarter. Shanahan finished the game five catches for 85 yards.
Pitt will host Maine next Saturday at Heinz Field at 1 p.m. in an attempt to improve to 2-0.
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