So game one is in the books and Pitt came away with a victory. As much as we want to dissect everything, criticize the difficulty with the new offense in the first half, at the end of the day a win is a win is a win. Todd Graham said it best afterwards:
"Half the people in the country have a loss right now. We're one of the ones who don't."
Still, don't mistake that for Graham being pleased:
"We should have dominated tonight a lot more than we did, I can tell you that," said Graham, whose team led only 7-3 at halftime. "I am not satisfied at all. We have a lot of missed opportunities.
At the end, Pitt's players disagreed a bit on just how good Buffalo played vs. how much they struggled. Mike Shanahan seemed to think it was the former while Chas Alecxih says it was the latter:
"Obviously Buffalo deserves some of the credit, but a lot of it was us coming out sluggish," Shanahan said. "We were a little overwhelmed at first, but at halftime we got ourselves together and played a lot better.
"They really came to play; I'll say it like that," redshirt senior defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said after the game. "I don't think it was so much what we didn't do as what they did. They started moving pretty good and went to the quick game to tire us out a little bit."
Like almost any game, I think it was probably a little of both. Pitt missed several opportunities in the first half - most notably two field goal misses and some inaccuracy by Tino Sunseri. But on the other hand, Buffalo missed some chances as well and played some solid defense.
I mentioned it in the recap immediately following the game, but the play of the game was Chas Alexcih's big interception. Afterwards, Alecxih mentioned that it wasn't the first time he saw that play:
Alecxih said the defensive players had talked right before the interception about making a play to help out the offense. It just so happened he was the one in the right place at the right time.
And it was no accident that Alecxih was in position to make the play. That's because he had been beaten earlier on the same play and made the right adjustment.
"First game of the season, you are never sure how it is going to go," Alecxih said. "And we said, we have to come up with a big turnover. They ran [the same screen] in the first quarter, and I didn't read it and my position coach nearly had a heart attack and punched me in the face and said don't do that again.
"So, when I saw it again, I was in position to make the play, and I was able to catch it and go."
That play was huge not only because it gave Pitt excellent field position, but it also swung the momentum of the game. Buffalo was looking to be in great shape moving the ball down the field, but the pick and ensuing run had to be at least a bit deflating. But give Buffalo credit - it didn't kill them. They came back to match scores with Pitt on two occasions and were in the game into the fourth quarter.
Player of the game? That would be running back Ray Graham. He had already put together a good night, rushing for more than 100 yards but breaking that huge 75-yard run turned it into exceptional. Breaking that play was simply a matter of continuing to knock on the door:
"I got tackled a couple times in the backfield, but I didn’t get discouraged," Ray Graham said. "I stayed positive and knew our offensive line would kick it up a notch. They told me to keep pushing on, and we eventually would open up some holes."
Also, about that last play, Graham said:
"Our tempo, we got the defense off guard," Ray Graham said. "They really didn’t know what was coming, and the hole opened so wide. It was like the Red Sea when it opened up. So, I just hit it hard and took off."
The other good thing I was glad to see come as a result of that big play was the fact that he came away with his third touchdown of the game when he punched it in on a short run.
On Buffalo's side of things, the Bulls will look back on what could have been with some missed plays:
"I give credit to Pittsburgh, they are a very good football team but I really liked the way our team fought tonight," said UB head coach Jeff Quinn. "We will look at the film and realize there were plays to be made out there but I love the effort every one of our kids gave.
'Plays to be made' has to refer, at least in part, to Ed Young, who dropped what should have been two touchdown passes after he had beaten his coverage. Quarterback Chazz Anderson couldn't have delivered the ball any better on either play and it was simply a matter of not making the catch.
Give credit to Young, though - he owned his mistakes after the game:
"I let my team down. It's just on me. I catch balls every day in practice and it's my job to catch the ball."
He also vowed to get better:
"I was feeling like the worst of the worst," Young said. "I just know I got to catch the ball from now on. I told my team that I'm not going to let them down like that again. It's all about the recovery process and I have to bounce back."
Gotta feel at least a little for a kid like that since the plays were so wide open. His catches could have made it an entirely different contest. But just why was he so wide open? Todd Graham's got an answer for that:
"We're supposed to be right up on them and we're backed off of them. And that is kind of what happens, [the cornerbacks] are used to playing off. But as you can see we pressure, we blitz a lot, but we were not effective with our blitzes, we had a lot of mental errors.
"The good thing is a lot [of that] we can correct, but I thought we were too soft and too far off the receivers."
Getting back to the other Graham - Ray was also the voice of reason after the game:
"Even though we've tried to simulate games in practice, that was our first time running our offense in a game," he said. "I think we'll get a lot better."
That's what so many of us may have forgotten briefly during the game in the frustration of scoring only seven points in the first half. Practice simulation is only worth so much and playing under the pressures of an actual game changes a lot of things. This offense will get better, but it will undoubtedly take some time. ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson is right when she called this team a 'work in progress.'
Sure this game was a big disappointing, but on a bigger scale, look at it this way: Pitt being unimpressive in this game doesn't necessarily they don't have the horses to win games later this season against the likes of South Florida or even West Virginia. Sure, they started slowly, but it's how they progress throughout the season that we'll look back on.