Pittsburgh Football: Report Card Grades For the Panthers' First Game
We heard a lot from Todd Graham in the offseason about how Pitt would look in their season opener against Buffalo. Thrown around were terms like speed, high octane, fast-paced, and more.
I expected the Panthers to struggle somewhat in their first game. Implementing three new schemes isn't an easy job. In reality, they struggled a bit more than I anticipated in the first half, but then showed something late.
However, if you would ask Graham he would likely say that the important thing is that the Panthers are 1-0 and not 0-1.
Let's take a position-by-position look at how the Panthers graded out in the first game of the Todd Graham era.
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While the offense didn't get moving for the first 30 minutes, Sunseri wasn't all that bad, completing 17 of 28 pass attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown.
It could have been better though as Sunseri once again proved his inability to throw the deep ball, overthrowing a pair of sure touchdowns.
He did throw the short routes well though and kept the chains moving in the second half; including going 6-7 for 88-yards in the second half, but eventually he's going to have to make big plays down the field.
As for running the offense, there was going to be a bit of confusion, but I thought he handled things well.
I do get nervous when he runs the ball, but that's a look the Panthers are going to have to show from time to time. Unfortunately to run the triple option, the quarterback is going to have to keep it from time to time.
However to run the triple option effectively, you need to have the threat of a quarterback who can run. If you take away Sunseri's 17-yard scramble, he averaged .5 yards per carry.
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Ray Graham, Zack Brown
The one area Pitt fans felt comfortable in coming into the season was at the running back position.
Everyone felt confident enough in the ability of Ray Graham to step in and replace Dion Lewis without a hitch.
He did that and more.
Graham carried the rock 29 times and toppled the 200-yard mark in his first game as Pitt's feature back. The Panthers were looking for explosiveness and Graham delivered with a 75-yard run.
All in all, the combination of Graham (3) and Brown (1) got in the end zone four times.
Needless to say, it was an impressive debut for the Pitt ground game. My only complaint was that Graham got 29 carries to only two from Brown, even though brown showed good power early on.
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Someone is going to have to step up and make plays down the field, which is a big piece missing from the Panthers offense.
As a unit they get a C, but Mike Shanahan played extremely well catching five passes for 85-yards and a score.
I was also happy that they got tight end Hubie Graham involved in the offense as he could prove to be a big weapon.
It would be nice to find a way for Cam Saddler, Devin Street and the other receivers to make plays, but if your quarterback can't throw the ball down the field it could be difficult.
I came away pleasantly surprised with the play of the offensive line.
They didn't get much going in the first half, but at the end of the day Graham gained over 200-yards on the ground.
Pass protection was an issue a season ago, but overall it wasn't too bad on Saturday. Sunseri was only sacked twice, but did lose a fumble on one of those.
If there was one unit I was a little disappointed with, it would be the defensive line.
It's practically the same guys back from a season ago, but they got gashed by Buffalo in the opener.
I can't believe that Bulls running back Branden Oliver only averaged 3.3 yards per carry. It seemed like he was getting 5-6 yards every run, en route to piling up 114 on the day.
If that continues to happen, it could be a long season.
Although they didn't play particularly well, they did make they play that changed the game around.
Chas Alecxih's interception and return set the Panthers offense up in great field position and Pitt never looked back.
The Panthers defense as a whole didn't play great, but they didn't give up the big play either.
Yet they did allow over 400 yards of offense to Buffalo, and that shouldn't happen.
The switch in schemes all around could have something to do with it, but either way, the defense needs fixed.
Brandon Lindsey playing linebacker looked good at times as a pass rusher, recording a first half sack.
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They weren't horrible, but could still play a lot better.
All the talk of the "high octane" offense, but the bigger concern has to be the "no octane" defense at the moment.
Bulls quarterback Chaz Anderson threw for 276 yards on the Panthers, usually to receivers running wide open.
The defense needs fixed, but how good of a look can they really get against Maine this week? Heading into Iowa in two weeks, it's possible that Graham truly will not know what he has on the defensive side of the ball until then.
That's not a good recipe for winning.
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Graham has said all the right things since his hire and he's preached over and over about what we would see.
We just didn't see enough of it.
What people have to understand is that this is Graham's system with Dave Wannstedt's players. Believe me, Graham doesn't want to be running the triple option with Sunseri, but it is what it is and he has what he has.
He has to get as much out of what he has until he gets the right type of athletes to fit his system.
I was way more concerned about what I saw on the defensive side of the ball more than anything we didn't see out of the offense.
There were some things I liked and some things I didn't; including letting Sunseri punt the ball more than once. Take that option away.
A win is a win though and Pitt is 1-0 which is the main thing.
I don't know about you, but going into the locker room with only a 7-3 lead, I kept thinking that this was exactly the type of game that Wannstedt would have blown.