I got around to re-watching the game this morning (and managed to not fall asleep after watching the 2nd quarter). As we all know, while the Panthers won, there is a lot for this team to work on in the next few weeks before Pitt heads to Iowa City in Week 3.
A position-by-position look after the jump.
QB: Tino Sunseri (16 of 28 for 179 yards, 1 TD, 7 carries for 20 yards)
I know it, you know it, Sunseri is not the ideal QB for the Todd Graham offense. He isn't athletic enough to create plays on his own if the pocket falls apart. His first half was forgettable: 10 of 21 for 91 yards. A couple of overthrown passes to wide open receivers that surely would have led to touchdowns and a very different opinion of this game. Yes, some of his problems did come from the offensive line's struggles (more on that in a bit), but Sunseri left 14 easy points on the field where he overthrew his receivers, which is odd considering QB coach Todd Dodge said Tino's greatest strengths are his deep ball and accuracy. Were we all watching the same person because last season one of Sunseri's biggest areas of concern was his ability to throw deep passes.
In the second half, I don't know if Todd Graham said something or maybe the offense just finally starting clicking, but Sunseri looked more comfortable and completed 6 of 7 for 88 yards and a TD. I will say this: He has some speed. Not enough that I would feel comfortable with him rushing the ball consistently, but enough that he can get back to the line of scrimmage should the pocket collapse.
I don't want to start up a QB controversy, but I want to see how Trey Anderson does in this offense. The coaches are really high on him considering he just earned a scholarship after working his way up from walk-on to backup QB. I've only watched a little bit of his highlights, but he seems much more mobile than Tino, which makes him a bit better of a fit for this offense. His arm strength isn't the greatest, but then again, neither is Tino's.
I'm hoping that Sunseri is able to put on a more complete game next week against Maine. While some, especially in the student section, were quick to criticize and boo Sunseri after his paltry first half performance, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for the first few games. In his first game in a completely different offense and after not playing a real game in over seven months, he showed promise in the second half. However, should he continue to have games like his first half throughout the season, he may find himself on the sidelines sooner rather than later.
Ray Graham: 29 carries for 201 yards, 3 TDs, 2 catches for 6 yards
Zach Brown: 2 carries for 10 yards, 1 TD, 2 catches for 22 yards
Thankfully, Pitt has one heckuva running back in Ray Graham. Graham had a great game against the Bulls, highlighted by a 75-yard run in the closing minutes. His YPC was 6.9, but take out the huge run and subsequent TD and he only had 4.7 YPC - a dropoff from his 6.2 average last season. Again, this was the first game and the offensive line has a lot of work to do, so I'm willing to put those numbers aside.
However, where was Zach Brown? Why did he only get two carries the entire game? He was brought in to be a tough and physical RB for those short yard situations, but he still should have seen more than two carries in the game.
If the running backs can stay healthy and keep up this level of production, it'll at least take some of the pressure off of Tino. My only question is if some of the freshman RBs will see any playing time this season. That will probably be answered in next week's game against Maine,
Mike Shanahan: 5 catches for 85 yards, 1 TD
Hubie Graham: 3 catches for 50 yards
Devin Street: 2 catches for 24 yards
Cam Saddler: 2 catches for -8 yards
Yes, you're reading that last one correct. Saddler had negative receiving yards. The receiving unit was actually decent. Street and Shanahan managed to get open on a number of occasions, although they couldn't quite come up with the ball.
The wide receivers are going to put up better numbers, it's just a matter of getting the offense familiar with the system and accustomed to running it in a game. Once Tino gets a better grasp of the QB position in this system, the wide receivers are going to thrive ... especially Street who has the speed to excel in Todd Graham's offense.
...Well, if we're looking on the bright side, Tino was only sacked twice. Hollins did not play well, plain and simple. He was beaten on a number of occasions and had trouble going against the Buffalo defensive ends. I was impressed though with Turnley. There was one bad snap, but other than that, he didn't play that bad. He snapped the ball well and did okay with his blocking assignments. At the very least he wasn't the weakest link of the line. Jacobson and Nix held their own on the interior and Gibbs also played okay in the opener.
How does Todd Graham go about fixing the line? My guess is that Greg Gaskins is going to see more time at the LT position if Hollins doesn't improve. Gaskins did see some time there last season and was working at the position in camp. He is currently listed as the backup RT.
Perhaps Nix will move back outside, like he was last season,and Cory King, who played well in reserve, will take his spot at guard? Whatever Coach Graham does, the offensive line, like almost always, is the area that Pitt has to watch and pray for no injuries because the Panthers simply do not have the depth to overcome those.
In the end, the line has to step up their game, especially with the Iowa contest in two weeks. Maybe Buffalo has a better defense than one would expect of a team coming off a 2-10 season - we won't know until the end of the season. But there are games ahead against much tougher defenses and if Pitt wants to stay in contention for a Big East title, it'll come down to how much the offensive line has improved.
The offense had a tale of two halves. The first half reminded me of last season. The offensive line was a mess, Sunseri was missing his receivers, and the running game was keeping us alive. The second half though was more of what I thought the high-octane offense would be like. In Pitt's scoring drives (outside of the one coming off the interception), here's how long the drives lasted. 2:29, 1:36, 1:09. The ball was snapped usually within 15-20 seconds, something Todd Graham was working on.
As I've been saying, it was the first game. Even if Todd Graham had been here for a year, players would still be rusty, having not played a real down in months. That being said, a lot of people (myself included) had high expectations of this offense - that it would be different than what we had grown used to when Wanny was coaching - and were a little disappointed with the first half. Again, this is going to come down to how well the offensive line is playing throughout the season. But if the offense can keep up the level they were playing at in the second half - quick scoring drives, completing short and mid-range passes, getting decent yardage in the ground game - I can at least see Pitt winning enough to reach a bowl game, which I would call a success considering the drastic changes in the offseason.