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Pitt surges past Buffalo

September 5, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Todd Graham promised to install a "high octane" attack at Pittsburgh.

Getting the engine to hum smoothly will take awhile. Until it does, running back Ray Graham has no issues providing a more primitive alternative.

The junior ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns to help the Panthers surge past Buffalo 35-16 on Saturday. Graham scored on runs of 3, 5, and 1 yards in the second half as Pitt pulled away late.

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"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."

Tino Sunseri threw for 179 yards and a score for the Panthers, who needed a full half to find their legs while playing in their coach's uptempo system that's a significant philosophical departure from former coach Dave Wannstedt's more deliberate style.

"It's a drastic change for these players and we're really close," Todd Graham said.

Pitt broke it open in the third quarter behind Ray Graham, who has embraced the expectations that come with following in the footsteps of former Pitt stars Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis.

He ran for 277 yards while filling in for Lewis against Florida International a year ago and his coach expects him to be among the best in the country.

In the second half, he looked like it, particularly on a late 75-yard sprint that set up his final touchdown.

"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."

Chazz Anderson threw for 276 yards and added a rushing touchdown while Branden Oliver had 114 yards on 35 clock-chewing carries for the Bulls, who controlled the clock but failed to make the kind of splash plays needed to pull off the upset.

"We didn't achieve the outcome we came in here to accomplish and that is always disappointing," said Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn. "There were, however, a lot of things out there tonight that we should be proud of as a team. I was proud of the way our kids competed and how they fought through."

Todd Graham used his frenetic style of play to turn Rice and Tulsa into winners and hoped to do one better at Pitt. He's called this the best team he's ever inherited and promised if his offense could run 80 plays a game it would score at least five touchdowns.

The Panthers only needed 66 snaps to produce five scores against the Bulls, but the performance will have to wait as Pitt operated in fits and starts for long stretches against a MAC team coming off a miserable 2-10 season.

Pitt operated quickly, as Graham promised, just not always efficiently. The Panthers often went just 15-18 seconds in between snaps but struggled to produce quality with their quantity.

Not that they didn't try. Sunseri went deep on the first play of the season but overthrew an open Mike Shanahan by a good five yards, a recurring theme for most of the night as Sunseri struggled with his accuracy. He completed 16 of 28 passes, almost all of them underneath routes his receivers turned into solid if not explosive gains.

"They were getting open down the field, but we just couldn't finish plays," Sunseri said. "We finally were able to do that with our running game, but we have to do better with our passing game, too."

His best play was handing the ball off to Graham.

The Panthers needed to rely on him after an uneven first half in which they managed just one touchdown, missed two field goals and had Sunseri punt - yes, punt - twice rather than go for it on fourth down in Buffalo territory.

"We ran 43 plays in the first half and only scored seven points, that might be a record," Todd Graham said.

Buffalo trailed just 7-3 at the half and started the third quarter by driving to the Pitt 31. Facing third-and-11, Anderson tried to throw a screen pass. The ball ended up in the hands of Pitt defensive lineman Chas Alecxih, who returned it 47 yards to the Buffalo 20.

"Once I took off, I was seeing an open field to the end zone," Alecxih said. "But I tried to be Barry Sanders and cut it back. I guess I just should have stayed down the sideline."

The Panthers needed just two plays - both Graham runs - to open up a 14-3 lead.

Buffalo, however, wasn't done.

Oliver, who carried the ball a clock-chewing 35 times, pulled Buffalo within 21-16 with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 13:26 to play. The two-point conversion failed and Pitt got the ball at the 40 when the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds.

Sunseri deftly guided the Panthers 60 yards in six plays, the last one a 17-yard strike to Shanahan. Buffalo's Ed Young dropped a sure touchdown on the Bulls' next possession, and Graham finished off his day with a 74-yard run to set up his final touchdown.

Alex Neutz had 10 receptions for 108 yards for the Bulls while Anderson completed 32 of 49 passes. Buffalo dominated time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes, but couldn't produce the big plays when it needed them.