Pitt's Myles Caragein and Aaron Donald take down Buffalo''s Branden Oliver Saturday at Heinz Field. Coach Todd Graham says the Panthers' biggest issues Saturday were on defense, where they had problems in the second half.
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt coach Todd Graham was happy his team was able to defeat Buffalo, 35-16, Saturday night but knows the Panthers have a long way to go. That is especially true on defense before they are ready to tangle with some of the top teams on their schedule.
Graham said Pitt did a good job avoiding killer mistakes that usually occur in opening games. The Panthers had only five penalties, one turnover and allowed just two quarterback sacks. But they didn't execute at a high enough level for his liking.
"It was a pretty clean game, we really emphasized not having a lot of penalties and not turning the ball over," Graham said. "We have a lot of work to do to get better. I think we have come a long way in our conditioning, but we still have a ways to go there in order to be able to handle the pace we want to go.
"Everybody in that locker room knows we have to get better in a lot of areas. We should have dominated tonight a lot more than we did, I'm not satisfied at all. But I think we have the potential to win every game, I really believe that."
Graham's biggest issues seem to be on defense where the Panthers had problems in the second half.
The offense started off slowly -- Pitt scored only seven first-half points -- but got rolling in the second half as quarterback Tino Sunseri settled down.
Pitt scored on every possession of the second half. Graham said that while there are a lot of areas that need improvement the offense got off to a good start and corrected some things along the way.
Defensively, the Panthers seemed to get worse, not better, as the game progressed. Buffalo was able to expose some things by using a quick-strike passing game in which it dinked and dunked its way down the field.
Buffalo scored two touchdowns in the second half and should have scored a third but Ed Young dropped an easy pass. The Bulls had 284 of their 406 total yards in the second half.
Graham said part of the issue is that the Panthers aren't used to playing such an aggressive style of defense. That enabled the Bulls to complete a lot of short passes underneath coverage.
"It was more just nickle and diming us," Graham said. "One thing is, they ran 93 plays and we only gave up 16 points, so that's pretty good. If you have 93 plays you are supposed to get about 50 points scored on you. But the one thing I noticed was we were playing a little too conservative on defense.
"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."
Graham said the pace clearly did wear down the Panthers as they are not yet used to playing so fast on game day. He said as the players begin to settle in and get comfortable with this new style they will be more equipped to handle the pace.
Offensively, Graham said the exciting thing was that there were so many plays that were there to be made that the Panthers just missed.
"This is a drastic change, we are really, really close," Graham said. "If we hit those two long balls and got a guy running with nobody on him, everybody is excited. We had 11 plays in the first half where we didn't even run the play, so we didn't even have a chance."