That may not have gone as well as expected, but the bottom line is that Pitt managed to get a win in Todd Graham's season opener.
No reason to state the obvious, but I will. For those of us that watched it, we know the game was much closer than the final score indicated. Buffalo had two big drops by receiver Ed Young that should have gone for touchdowns and they also dropped a very catchable interception. The Bulls came to play and it showed.
You could argue that the last time there was this much excitement for a season was in 2008. Pitt had just come off the 13-9 win at Morgantown to knock West Virginia out of a potential national championship game and hope was that Dave Wannstedt had gotten things turned around. Bowling Green promptly came into Heinz Field and won the season opener by ten in what was one of the most disappointing losses in recent memory.
This game had that feel for a half, but I never figured Pitt would lose it. Part of that was because their offense was more effective than the score indicated. They had two drives that could have ended with points, but kicker Kevin Harper missed two field goals. I'm not going to throw the kicker under the bus after one bad game, but there's clearly cause for concern. That's because the same issues we heard about his inaccuracy (that we never really saw because Dan Hutchins was the starter) appear to be accurate. I don't think Harper's as bad as we saw tonight, but there's going to be a lot of anxious folks every time he lines up for a kick until he starts hitting a few in a row.
Ray Graham had a huge night, going for 201 yards. As I wrote in the SB Nation Pittsburgh recap, his big night was a bit deceptive since 75 of those came on a long run late in the game. But that run also proved he's got breakaway speed and he should break more this year. I've said all offseason that he should have a big year and while he's not going to go for 200+ every game, he will get plenty of touches.
Tino Sunseri was, well, Tino Sunseri. Nothing spectacular, but he didn't cost Pitt the game. I hate to call him a game manager, because I think he's more than that. But to be fair, he missed a lot of wide open receivers and his deep ball doesn't look any better than last year. Not sure if it's just shaking some rust off, but for a first game, he was adequate in that he kept Pitt in the game and made some timely throws.
One guy that got quite a few looks was tight end Hubie Graham, who caught three passes for 50 yards. That's interesting in because Brock DeCicco transferred out of the system, which wasn't perceived to be tight end friendly. Graham proved that the tight end/H-back position could indeed be a big part of the offense and while he may not get as many targets as he got tonight on a consistent basis, the potential to play a big part definitely exists.
So how did the high octane offense fare as far as getting snaps off? Pretty well from what I could tell. There were definitely times when 20 seconds or more elapsed between plays, but there were also plenty of 15-18 snaps. I'd be interested to know the average time in between snaps for the entire game, taking out the ones near the end when Pitt was trying to burn clock.
Play of the game was no doubt Chas Alecxih's interception to kill the momentum Buffalo was building in the third quarter. Not only because he picked the ball off, but because he proceeded to run nearly 50 yards and put Pitt's offense in excellent scoring position. The offense had trouble putting the ball in the end zone in the first half and working with a short field probably did wonders for their confidence.
On the Buffalo side of things, I was really impressed with quarterback Chazz Anderson and I expect the Bulls to be a very good team. It's only been one game, but that team has some real talent. I'd be foolish to declare them contenders for the MAC just yet, but it's obvious the team is much improved over last year.
So what's to like about this win? Well, the fact that it was indeed a win. You'd like to think Pitt will come out next week and put together two strong halves to get ready for a tough road game at Iowa. Things weren't great today, but the team will get better.
More game breakdown coming up later.