Pitt's stock is up a few ticks after a soggy win over Buffalo, but the lackluster performance left a lot of questions going forward.
On Saturday following the game, I saw multiple people on Facebook and Twitter describe it as "meh". So succinct, yet so accurate. Now, don't get me wrong, a win is a win, and I'm happy to see the Panthers pull back to within a game of .500. But Saturday's win over a lowly Buffalo team left a lot to be desired. Pitt didn't pile it on nearly as much as I was hoping - and didn't look like they could pile it on - leaving a lot of questions up in the air for this weekend's game against Temple.
Bull (upward trending): Kicker Kevin Harper
Harper has been pretty disappointing this year, completing under 62% of his field goal attempts on the season. Coach Chryst even went for a long fourth down last week against Louisville instead of kicking a field goal, hinting he had little confidence in the kicker's ability. But, Harper was able to turn it around this week, nailing two field goals, despite the nasty weather. The Trib's Jerry DiPaola recaps:
The day started poorly for Harper when he walked onto the field at UB Stadium and noticed the wind blowing in multiple directions.
The next thing he knew, Pitt coach Paul Chryst was asking him to kick a 45-yard field goal. He nailed it midway through the first quarter for the game’s first points.
He stayed calm by reminding himself that nothing has changed about his job since he first started booting a football a decade ago.
Considering it looked like a blustery wind tunnel during the game, the 45-yarder especially is impressive. If Pitt is going to get to 6 wins, they'll need Harper to make some clutch field goals along the way. I've always thought Harper was a level-headed guy, so hopefully Saturday's game is a big step in the right direction for him.
Linebacker Dan Mason, who made his first start since 2010 on Saturday, is also a definite bull. His story is a fantastic one, and he deserves all the praise in the world for his perseverance to get back onto the field.
Bear (downward trending): The Running Game
Given the weather, it's no surprise Pitt played ultra conservatively and ran the ball over and over. I'm sure Buffalo was prepared for that. What was surprising, was the lack of explosiveness on both the part of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell. Sam Werner of the PG discusses the unit on Saturday:
The running game got back on track...sort of. Rushel Shell and Ray Graham both reached the end zone, and the Panthers nearly doubled their yards per carry average from the last two games, but the players and coaches all said afterwards that there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Given the production this unit gave Pitt in the wins over Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, I’d be inclined to agree. The two running backs combined to average 3.4 yards per carry Saturday (Pitt as a team averaged 3.0), still a far cry from the 5+ they were getting in those two wins.
I have to agree with that assessment. The running backs didn't have a bad game, per se, but given the size differential between Pitt and Buffalo, I thought Graham and Shell would be able to run over the Bulls more powerfully than they did.