OK, now I’m more confused than ever.
Pitt won its opener by 19 points Saturday night against a Buffalo team that ended last season on a seven-game losing streak and lost 10 games overall.
Ugly? Yes, even coach Todd Graham said the victory wasn’t pretty.
Every team in the nation that lost this weekend would take that, but at Pitt, there are different expectations, greater expectations. Games where Pitt is only winning, 21-16, early in the fourth quarter against a MAC doormat are not acceptable.
Graham set the bar high (too high?) when he stoked the hype by talking about winning championships and installing the potentially exciting no-huddle, hurry-up offense that fans couldn’t wait to see.
There were some positives:
Pitt scored 35 points, amassed 410 yards and running back Ray Graham looked at least the equal of Dion Lewis, rushing for 201 yards and three touchdowns. I’m on record — look it up on Saturday’s blog — that Graham will reach 1,500 yards this season. Do the math: He ‘s on pace for 2,613. Of course, that’s outrageous and he will run into several games when the running game won’t work. But Graham may be the best back in the Big East.
Still, there were large hiccups.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri played poorly in the first half, better in the second, repeatedly missing open receivers, but he and Todd Graham spoke after the game like they expect even greater performances moving forward.
“The second half I put the ball on the receivers, the first half I didn’t, but that’s very correctable,” Sunseri said.
Maybe, but throughout the night, I kept thinking: What if athletic director Steve Pederson had tried to make a grandstand play and scheduled, maybe, Notre Dame for the opener? That was a 42-21 disaster six years ago to the day in Dave Wannstedt’s first game, and it might have been just as bad last night.
Yes, South Florida defeated Notre Dame on Saturday. But the way Pitt started out, stumbling to understand and execute new offensive and defensive systems, it would have had no chance to beat a good team Saturday night.
And that’s not such a good though, moving forward.
— I understand why Todd Graham called for two Sunseri pooch punts from inside the Buffalo 40 in the first quarter. The offense is just too new and too complicated to take chances, but it wasn’t a great risk. It was early in the game against a weak opponent, so I thought Graham would have made a statement there and allowed the offense to go for it on fourth-and-8 and fourth-and-4. Maybe next time.
— Kicker Kevin Harper needs to get better. Missed field goals of 32 (ouch!) and 47 yards and a kickoff that rolled out of bounds, giving the opponent possession on its 40, will cost Pitt against a better team.
— Lost in the disappointment of the game was Pitt scoring 28 points after halftime with only 5:56 of possession time. That’s the high-octane Graham talked about since January. But it was watered down because Buffalo stood toe-to-toe with the Panthers and answered Pitt’s first two second-half scores with touchdowns of their own
— I’m no coach, but I think Zach Brown needs to handle the ball more than four times (two carries, two receptions) and Ray Graham needs to catch more than two balls.
— It looks like freshman Ronald Jones has won the No. 1 punt-return job. Nice to see Jones not allow the ball to roll. He returned four for 52 yards, including a 22-yarder.
— Kickoff returner Buddy Jackson took back the opening kickoff 52 yards, but that only led to Sunseri’s first pooch punt. What a waste!
— I’ll give my colleague Joe Starkey, the Trib’s insightful columnist, credit for digging this stat out of the game book: Buffalo quarterback Chazz Anderson put the ball in the air 49 times and Pitt had only two pass breakups (cornerback K’Waun Williams and safety Jarred Holley).
— Also, Pitt blitzed repeatedly from different angles and with different people, but there was only one sack (Brandon Lindsey).
One final thought: Pitt offensive coordinator Calvin Magee made a lot of good calls last night, especially with his receivers continually breaking free. But the best call of the night was Starkey’s as we were walking to the car at 11:30. He uttered these fateful words: “Jerry, let’s get a rib sandwich.”
Delicious! Thanks, Joe!