Football: Pitt and Buffalo use similar systems

By Lauren Kirschman

The Pitt football team knows Buffalo’s offense well, even though the Panthers haven’t faced… The Pitt football team knows Buffalo’s offense well, even though the Panthers haven’t faced it yet.

It’s the same offense that Cincinnati used to make a 31-10 Pitt lead disappear in the 2009 Big East Championship at Heinz Field, earning the Bearcats a 45-44 victory and a trip to a BCS Bowl.

Tomorrow, the Panthers face the man who orchestrated Cincinnati’s offensive attack: Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn, the former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach under Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly.

Both Pitt and Buffalo recently experienced offensive overhauls — Pitt with new head coach Todd Graham this season and Buffalo with Quinn last season — and both will bring no-huddle attacks to Heinz Field at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

“[The Bulls] have a similar philosophical approach we have here at Pitt,” Graham said in a press conference on Monday. “They didn’t get it going as well as they wanted to last year, but they did have some big players in their offense.”

The Bulls ended last season with a 2-10 record, finishing last in the country in points per game with 14.2. Graham said that even though Buffalo struggled last year, the Bulls are “very capable.”

New quarterback Chazz Anderson, a senior transfer from Cincinnati who is familiar with the system — but didn’t play in the 2009 game against Pitt — will lead Buffalo’s offensive charge.

“Being able to have Chazz and his maturity and experience and his ability to learn and understand the game and what we want from that position is a good feeling going into game one,” Quinn said in a news release on Buffalo’s website.

During his three years at Cincinnati, Anderson served as a backup to starters Tony Pike and Zach Collaros. He completed 74 of 126 for 729 yards and three touchdowns during his career as a Bearcat.

Anderson’s main targets at Buffalo are wide receivers Marcus Rivers, Alex Neutz and Terrell Jackson.

“I think they have three wide receivers that are special,” Graham said. “They can hurt you and can go out and make things happen.”

At 6-foot-5, Rivers, a senior, is the tallest of the receivers. Last year, he led the Bulls with 50 catches for 690 yards and five touchdowns.

Neutz caught 26 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns last year. The team named the 6-foot-4r redshirt sophomore its Offensive MVP and the top wide receiver on the team.

Jackson hauled in 43 passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns last season. The senior was also an All-Mid-American Conference first team punt returner. He finished with 1,057 all-purpose yards.

The wide-open offensive attack will immediately challenge Pitt cornerbacks sophomore K’Waun Williams, senior Antwuan Reed and redshirt senior Buddy Jackson.

But the experienced Panthers have an advantage against Buffalo’s young offensive line, which will start three new players — two freshmen and one redshirt freshman — up front.

In contrast, Pitt’s defensive line is stacked with seniors Chas Alecxih, Justin Hargrove, Myles Caragein and Brandon Lindsey.

“Obviously if they’re playing as freshmen, then they must be pretty talented,” Graham said. “But I like our guys up against just about anyone. We have a really good defensive line.”

Although Caragein said at a news conference on Monday that freshmen will struggle during their first season of college football and the Panthers will take that into consideration, he added that Pitt wouldn’t just focus on its attack on the young players..

“At the end of the day, we’re looking at what’s best for our defense in general. We’re not going to exploit just one spot,” he said. “We’re going to keep giving them different looks, changing it up.”

The Panthers are hoping to find greater success in their first season under Graham’s self-described “high-octane” system than Buffalo did last year.

“Obviously Coach Graham has been selling the high-octane, and everyone wants to see it,” redshirt junior wide receiver Mike Shanahan said in a news conference on Monday. “And the players kind of have a feeling that we want to see what we’re going to do in a game setting.”

Redshirt junior quarterback Tino Sunseri and junior running back Ray Graham, who rushed for 922 yards and eight touchdowns last season, return for Pitt offensively.

The Panthers also have a triple threat of their own in wide receivers Shanahan, redshirt sophomore Devin Street and redshirt junior Cameron Saddler.

“Early in the season, I am always a firm believer that the team who makes the least mistakes is going to win,” Graham said. “You can’t beat yourself. We’re going to be high-octane about everything we’re doing — from how we take the field, to how we call the plays, to how we execute those plays.”

Buffalo’s defense returns just three starters from a team that allowed 27.1 points per game last season, whereas the Panthers return four players with game experience on the offensive line.

However, Pitt will start a new center — junior Ryan Turnley.

Graham said fans can expect the Panthers to play with “a lot of passion” and a “hard-edge mentality.”

“I want people to hear, feel and see Pitt football,” he said. “I want it to be old-fashioned football and played very physical. We’re excited, and I am honored to be heading toward this game. I woke up about 4:15 this morning, ready to go.”