Impressive? Hardly, but Pitt, Graham are 1-0


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Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you there was very little good about the first game of the Todd Graham era at Pitt. I came up with at least three glowing positives. The game ended without a weather delay. Pitt didn't lose. No one was seriously injured.

Don't you just hate negative people?

I mean, really?

OK, enough of the facetiousness.

Us naysayers have plenty to gripe about today. Pitt hardly looked good at all despite beating Buffalo, 35-16, Saturday night in front of more empty seats at Heinz Field than I anticipated. Maybe those who stayed away had it right by wanting to actually see something before buying what Graham has been selling since he took the Pitt job in January. He and his team will get another chance to deliver and convince the masses Saturday when Pitt plays at home again against Maine. It's nice to think it will go a lot better.

"We have a lot of areas to improve," said Graham, who seemed awfully pleased that this first game was done and that Pitt is 1-0.

"Half the people in the country have a loss right now. We're one of the ones who don't."

Well, there is that.

Actually, it wasn't all bad for Pitt. Tailback Ray Graham ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns. "I love his toughness," Todd Graham said. H-back Hubie Graham -- does Pitt have more Grahams than there are Smiths in the phone book or what -- was an excellent receiving threat, catching three balls from quarterback Tino Sunseri for 50 yards. Defensive tackle Chas Alecxih stopped a fast-moving Buffalo offense with a third-quarter interception and a 47-yard return. "The play of the game," Todd Graham called it. "The first ball I ever caught in organized football," Alecxih said, fairly giggling. And don't underestimate the importance of this: new center Ryan Turnley didn't snap one ball over the head of Sunseri in the shotgun.

"We have preached and preached about protecting the ball and not taking stupid penalties," Todd Graham said.

Mission accomplished in those areas: Pitt had just one turnover on a Sunseri fumble after a sack and was penalized five times for 53 yards.

But, somehow, you expected a lot more. If this had been Game 1 of Year 7 under former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, we would have trashed this performance against a 30-point underdog. That it was Game 1, period, for Graham didn't make it any easier to watch, especially after listening to Graham talk endlessly about his high-octane style of football in the days, weeks and months leading up to the game.

High octane?

Getting in the left lane and putting the hammer down?

I didn't envision it being 7 points for Pitt in the first half despite running 43 plays. Or Graham calling for punts twice inside the Buffalo 40 in the first quarter. (Remember how we used to roast Wannstedt for his conservatism when he did that?) Or Pitt kicker Kevin Harper missing field-goal attempts from 32 and 47 yards. Or Buffalo running 27 more plays than Pitt and having an edge in possession time of nearly 39-21 minutes. Or Buffalo pushing around the Pitt defense and outgaining the Panthers, 284-242, in the second half, an edge that would have been even more dramatic if not for a 75-yard run by Ray Graham late in the game. Or Buffalo wide receiver Ed Young dropping not one, but two would-be touchdown passes that easily could have changed the outcome.

Of course, Pitt also had some near-misses. Sunseri looked strong at times, especially on a couple of passes for 20 and 17 yards to wide receiver Mike Shanahan on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that gave Pitt a 28-16 lead. But he overthrew four wide-open receivers.

"We're really, really close," Todd Graham said. "If we had hit those two long balls when no one was on 'em, everyone is excited. And we will hit 'em."

Maybe against Maine.

For Pitt's sake, certainly by the time it plays Sept. 17 at Iowa.

Say this about Graham:

A shaky opening game didn't damage the man's confidence in himself, his coaching or his team.

"Any time you get a win in Division I football, it's awesome," he said.

Even if it wasn't impressive.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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