Wide-open Buffalo to test Pitt defense

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Pitt defensive coordinator Keith Patterson expects his versatile defense to be put to the test in the opener Saturday against a varied Buffalo attack.

The Bulls employ a spread scheme and are coached by former Cincinnati offensive boss Jeff Quinn. But the Bulls also have a first-year offensive coordinator in Alex Wood, the receivers coach at Miami of Ohio the past three seasons, so Patterson expects to see a lot of different looks.

Interestingly enough, Wood would have been on Pitt's sideline Saturday, because he was supposed to join Michael Haywood's staff after Haywood was hired to replace Dave Wannstedt.

But he and seven other assistants were left to find jobs after Haywood was arrested in Indiana in a domestic dispute, then fired by Pitt.

Looking ahead
  • Game: Pitt vs. Buffalo in the 2011 season opener for both schools.
  • When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
  • Where: Heinz Field.

Wood has roots with former Iowa coach Hayden Fry and has worked for big-name offensive coaches Dennis Erickson and Dennis Green. His knowledge and experience -- combined with that of Quinn, who worked for Brian Kelly at Cincinnati -- has Pitt preparing for almost anything.

"Last year you saw a lot of bubble screens, we saw a lot of speed sweeps," Patterson said. "But it will be interesting to see as the game unfolds, are they going to be more Buffalo -- which is a lot of the Brian Kelly no-huddle stuff -- or are the going to be more Miami (Ohio) with the new coordinator?

"The bottom line is, we're forcing the issue. We're not going to sit back and let offenses dictate to us how we are going to defend them. We're going to make those guys study a little bit and try to figure out what we're trying to do on defense."

The Bulls offense last season was a lot of the no-huddle, spread formation, and the Bulls threw a lot out of the shotgun formation.

But Quinn has talked about wanting to run the football more, and Patterson said he expects to see the Bulls under center at least some of the time.

Pitt likely will counter the Bulls with nickel and dime packages, and that means all three cornerbacks and safety/spur linebacker Andrew Taglianetti would spend a lot of time on the field.

The Panthers might have a distinct advantage going into the game because they spent spring practice and training camp trying to defend against their offense, which is just as diverse and operates at a fast tempo out of the no-huddle.

"We really want to focus on what we do. We have to be able to play base fronts and coverages and we have to be able to zone pressure no matter what they give us," Patterson said. "But the good thing is I can tell you this -- there is nothing we haven't seen to this point that we will see on Saturday. So that is always to our benefit.

"But like I said, we're going to do what we do and we're not going to let some offense dictate to us how we are going to attack and how we are going to dictate the tempo of the game."

Along with a new offensive coordinator, the Bulls have a new quarterback in Chazz Anderson. But Anderson is familiar with Quinn's offense because he transferred to Buffalo from Cincinnati.

Anderson is mostly a pocket passer but can make some plays scrambling, so the Panthers will work to keep him in the pocket.

The biggest weapons on the Buffalo offense are the top three receivers, who are experienced, talented and will put pressure on the cornerbacks.

Marcus Rivers, who is 6 feet 5, was the leading receiver last year with 50 catches for 690 yards and 5 touchdowns. Alex Neutz added 26 catches for 414 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Terrell Jackson caught 43 passes for 397 yards and 3 touchdowns.

But Jackson also ran some sweeps and reverses, and Patterson expects to see more of that Saturday.

Patterson is eager to see how the top three cornerbacks -- Kwaun Williams, Antwuan Reed and Buddy Jackson -- handle their assignments Saturday.

"I like the challenge for our corners because we will get tested right out of the gate. We'll see if those guys are ready for prime time because when you are a pressure team like us, and that is zone pressure or man pressure, you have to be able to hold up on the perimeter," Patterson said. "And if we can do that this week, it will be a great thing.

"It will be a great test for us and I'm looking forward to seeing where we are at corner -- I just hope we are as good as we think we are, and if we are, well, it is going to be an exciting season."

NOTES --Pitt will have its annual football "Kick-off Luncheon" Friday at the Westin, Convention Center. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. and the lunch and program begins at noon. Cost is $40 per person or $400 per table (10 seats). Tickets can be purchased at 412-648-8889. ... Graham announced the captains Wednesday: Taglianetti, Reed, Chris Jacobson, Tino Sunseri, Mike Shanahan, Myles Caragein and Jarred Holley.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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