AMHERST, N.Y. -- Dorin Dickerson was the prize of the Pitt's 2006 recruiting class, but, for the first three seasons of his Panthers' career, he was mostly a non-factor.
Yesterday, he showed why he was such a prize catch. Dickerson caught eight passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns as Pitt (2-0) stampeded Buffalo, 54-27, before a crowd of 21,870 at UB Stadium.
Dickerson's first two touchdowns gave Pitt a 14-0 lead, and his third stretched the Panthers' lead to 27-7, but the most important thing was the number of ways Pitt's coaching staff was able to use him to exploit matchups.
"Absolutely [Dickerson is a matchup problem for defenses]," said Pitt quarterback Bill Stull, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns.
"You look at him and the athletic ability is remarkable. He has found his fit, especially in this type of offense where we utilize our playmakers. Dorin is obviously one of them, and it's great to see him get a good fit and stay there and continue to get better and better every day."
The versatile Dickerson is just one of Pitt's playmakers One of the others, freshman tailback Dion Lewis, rushed 24 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns and caught six passes for 46 yards against the Bulls.
The difference, however, was turnovers as Buffalo committed four and the Panthers had none.
Not only did the Bulls turn the ball over four times, the Panthers capitalized on them, turning them into 27 points.
"I wanted to see how we would operate on the road, coming into an environment like this, against a good football team," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "When we created some turnovers early and were able to capitalize on them and score, that was huge."
Although the Panthers won by 27 points, the game was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter, largely because of poor coverage and tackling by Pitt's secondary.
The Bulls gashed the Panthers for 500 yards, including 433 through the air and had two receivers, Brett Hamlin (12 catches, 149 yards) and Naaman Roosevelt (six catches, 157 yards), eclipse the 100-yard mark.
"We can't come out there and play like that every week and expect to win games," said Pitt safety Dom DeCicco, who led the team with 12 tackles but missed a big one on a screen pass to Roosevelt that turned into a 67-yard touchdown.
"We definitely have some work to do in the secondary. A lot of it wasn't ability, it was us not paying attention to details and not doing the little things that we have to do."
The Bulls trailed, 40-27, with 5:09 left and faced a fourth-and-10 from Pitt's 20, but quarterback Zach Maynard missed a wide open Terrel Jackson in the corner of the end zone to turn the ball over on downs.
Had they connected, it would have been a six-point game. Instead, the Panthers took possession and, one play later. Lewis ran 85 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.
Elijah Fields intercepted a pass from Maynard on the ensuing drive and returned it 30 yards to the Bulls' 2, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by another freshman, Ray Graham.
"There really wasn't a sigh of relief until the last minute or two," Wannstedt said. "Every time they had the football, I had the feeling anything could happen. We missed some tackles, but I'm going to give [Buffalo's receivers] credit. [Roosevelt] and [Hamlin], I'd love to have both of those guys."
NOTES -- Despite a number of Pitt injuries yesterday, the only serious one was sustained by free safety Andrew Taglianetti (sprained left knee). He will have an MRI today. Linebackers Greg Williams and Adam Gunn both limped off the field with what appeared to be ankle injuries, but both returned and finished the game. ... Wide receiver Aundre Wright (sick) did not make the trip. ... Pitt missed two extra points, snapping a streak of 120 consecutive made extra-point attempts. "I'll have to take a look at the snaps on the extra points," Wannstedt said. ... How bad was Pitt's defense? Buffalo had not gained 500 yards in a game since 2001.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720 First Published September 13, 2009 4:00 AM