Pitt vs. Buffalo history closer than it seems

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In the season opener a year ago, Buffalo came into Heinz Field and gave the Panthers all they could handle. Early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls scored to cut Pitt's lead to 21-16 and put a serious scare in the Panthers.

Pitt pulled away to win, 35-16, but in the three games the Panthers have played against Buffalo, two of them have come down to the final quarter.

The Bulls gave the Panthers a scare in 2008, the first game of this four-game series that concludes today. Pitt won, 27-16, but held a tenuous 17-16 lead heading into the fourth quarter, and that was a Pitt team that featured future NFL star running back LeSean McCoy. Buffalo won the Mid-American Conference title that year.

As Pitt (2-4) travels to Buffalo to take on the Bulls (1-5), recent history shows that it won't be the pushover game it might appear to be on paper.

Scouting report
  • Matchup: Pitt (2-4) vs. Buffalo (1-5), 3:30 p.m. today, UB Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y. Pitt is favored by 9.
  • TV, Radio: WTAE, ESPN3, Big East Network; KDKA-FM (93.7).
  • Pitt: Coming off a 45-35 home loss to Louisville. ... Pitt is 28-3 all time against Mid-American Conference teams, but just 2-2 on the road. ... QB Tino Sunseri leads the Big East in passing efficiency with a 163.5 rating on the year, good enough for eighth in Division I-A. ... WR Devin Street is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, as well as his first two career games with double-digit catches. ... Has not started 2-5 since 2001, though that team went on to win its final seven in a row. ... Is 3-0 against the Bulls, with all three games coming since 2008.
  • Buffalo: Coming off a 45-3 road loss to Northern Illinois. ... Since joining Division I-A in 1999, the Bulls have one win vs. a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference, a 2002 victory against Rutgers. ... QB Alex Zordich is a dual-threat, with 971 yards passing and 355 yards rushing for the season. ... LB Khalil Mack leads Division I-A with an average of 2.5 tackles for losses per game.
  • Hidden stat: Buffalo has been effective getting pressure on the QB this season, with 3.0 sacks per game. Pitt has allowed an average of 3.0 sacks per game.

"I know that they flew around and they were excited," quarterback Tino Sunseri said of the game a year ago. "They were excited to be at Heinz Field. They were flying around making plays. We have to go in and handle our business."

This may be a rebuilding Buffalo team -- the Bulls are 10-26 overall since '08 -- but Pitt players and coaches agreed that, regardless of the opponent, the most important task this week was fixing self-inflicted errors that have hurt the Panthers in their past two games.

The Bulls also have played quality opponents close this season, hanging with Georgia for a half and losing by a touchdown to Connecticut.

"I think they're a good team," wide receiver Devin Street said. "I think they do some things well, but we can go out there and exploit some of those things they don't do well."

If Pitt can cut its own mistakes, Buffalo's defense could be the remedy for an offense that has stagnated, particularly on the ground, in the past two games.

After rushing for 483 combined yards in wins against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, Pitt was held to 120 combined yards on the ground against Syracuse and Louisville. Buffalo enters the contest today ranked No. 94 in Division I-A in rushing defense, allowing 194.7 yards per game.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said he had respect for the Bulls' uncommon 3-5-3 defensive alignment.

"They've done a good job of leveraging the ball, force you to just kind of be consistent if that's the way you want to go about it," he said. "If you want to pound it at them, then you're going to have to earn it."

While a showdown on the road against a MAC team might not be the most high-profile matchup, the Panthers are eager to get a win any way they can.

"It's a little cliché to say guys circle games," center Ryan Turnley said. "I mean, every game's important. Every game that you win is important and every game you lose is important, so we've just got to take it one day at a time."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or on Twitter: @SWernerPG.


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