High-Octane Debut Ready To Launch

Pitt enters Saturday night's game with Buffalo as a 30-point favorite against the Bulls. In the two previous meetings, Pitt defeated Buffalo 27-16 in 2008, and 54-27 in 2009.

There is a new game in town and they call it "High Octane" football.

In a football mad city, it is just what the doctor ordered after Dave Wannstedt took the Panthers as far he could take them before underachieving a year ago in his run-oriented, pro-style offense.

Todd Graham comes in from Tulsa, opens this week with a Buffalo team that actually runs its offense with a similar philosophy, and turns what he expects to be the whirlwind loose.

"I can't wait to put it in the left lane and put the hammer down," he said in his first pre-game press conference as Pitt coach.

True, there will be growing pains, something he realizes, which is why he installed only 60 to 65 percent of the offense he used at Tulsa where in four years he had three 10-victory seasons and won three bowls without defeat. The cutback is because this is the first season at Pitt and he coached four years at Tulsa.

"That was our fourth year (at Tulsa), so we had recruited and gotten a lot of things in place," Graham said. "I just don't want to force things. There is a lot of pressure on our quarterback with a complete new system, and for him, I just don't want him hurrying to mess up. Initially, we were hitting that 15-second goal (in between snaps) but with a lot more mental mistakes, so we kind of slowed it.

"But we're still fast, we're still snapping it in 18 seconds from the start of the 40-second clock, so that is still fast."

Tino Sunseri, last year's starter, has taken well to the new offense, which uses multiple formations along with the up-tempo style.

"I feel like, in this system, I'll really be able to grow as a quarterback," Sunseri told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "What I think is most exciting is that we are still developing as an offense every day and we're only going to get better. But for me, I like the versatility of this offense, I like the quick throws and the fact that we can open it up or we can run the ball.

"I've heard coach talk about us throwing the ball 55 times in a game if necessary and, obviously, as a quarterback, that excites me, but we can and maybe sometimes will hand the ball off 55 or 60 times in a game if that's what it takes to win and I'm all for that, too."

The running part belongs to Ray Graham, also a returnee who just missed 1,000 rushing yards while sharing time with Dion Lewis. He also put together the second greatest rushing game in Pitt history when he gained 277 yards against Florida International in his first start.

In Buffalo this offense faces a team out of the MAC that was but 2-10 last year and gave up 54 points to Panthers when they last played in 2009, losing, 54-27.

--The Panthers are 27-3 all-time against the Mid-American Conference and 25-1 at Heinz Field.

--Coach Todd Graham said he could envision RB Ray Graham pushing 2,000 rushing yards this year because the running game is easier to develop and takes less time than the passing game he is putting in this year.

SERIES HISTORY: Pittsburgh leads Buffalo, 2-0 (last meeting, 2009, 54-27 Pitt).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Fast, fast, fast ... and complicated. The new Pitt offense comes at you quickly and from every angle imaginable. "We were running 87 formations at Tulsa, but we weren't doing that in year one," Graham said. "I'd say we're further along right now, but we're at about 65 percent of that and we are going to build from there," Coach Todd Graham said. The difference between this offense and last year's should be readily apparent. A Tulsa in 2010 the Gold Hurricane ran 77.4 plays per game and averaged 6.53 yards per play while at Pitt they were running 63.8 plays a game and averaging 5.75 yards a play. There is a lot of short passing, emphasis on a lot, while they can run power football and will utilize the running skills of Ray Graham.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Defensively this will be a typical Pitt defense, which means it will be tough against the run and rush the passer. Head coach Todd Graham is known for his offense but once was a defensive coordinator and had strong players to run out of his attacking 3-4. "He's a defensive coach at heart even though he's known for his offense," DE David Lindsey said. Key player on the defense will be Lindsey, who moves to rush linebacker from defensive end. Lindsey is an All-Big East player who recorded 10 sacks last season. DT Aaron Donald has the potential to have a breakout season. CB Antwuan Reed and S Jarred Holley give Pitt the potential to have a really sound secondary to go with the pass rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want to be fast. We want to be efficient and we are going to be explosive. I want people who come to Heinz Field to not sit down in their seats. That's the type of football we're going to play." -- New Pitt Coach Todd Graham, outlining his theory of football.


THIS WEEK'S GAME: Buffalo at Pittsburgh, Sept. 3 -- This is the third time Pitt and Buffalo have met with the Panthers winning the two previous games. It is the first game for Todd Graham as Pitt's head coach after coaching at Tulsa and turning their program around. Pitt will try to take advantage of a Buffalo team that lost 10 games last year with a high powered, high-tempo offense that will feature the running of Ray Graham and the field generalship of QB Tino Sunseri.

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers figure to be much the better team in the matchup but there are some questions that must be answered. The first key depends upon how QB Tino Sunseri handles coach Todd Graham's high octane, up-tempo offense that plays at Mach 1. Everything will be sped up from what he is used to and he hasn't had a whole lot of team to get used to it. His reads will be crucial. Then the Pitt offensive line, with a new, inexperienced center, must do some blocking for RB Ray Graham, who normally would be expected to control the ball for Pitt. Pitt also has to get some good work out new special team performers Matt Yoklic on the punt and placekicker Kevin Harper.

--QB Tino Sunseri comes back with a year's experience as the starting quarterback, including all the ups and downs that go with being a first-year starter. Sunseri is hoping to be more consistent. He comes back a little bigger, a little stronger, a little quicker and with his arm strength on the up-tick and is looking to have a big season under the new offense.

--RB Ray Graham was caught in the shadow of Dion Lewis last year but broke out when given a chance to start due to injury and gained 277 rushing yards against Florida International. That day moved him out of Lewis' shadow and into Tony Dorsett's. He is now the man in the running game on a team that does not mind running the ball and wants to prove that he belongs ... in the NFL. Graham missed a 1,000-yard season last year by just 23 yards, even though he was a backup most of the season.

--C Ryan Turnley is new at the position and may take a while before he settles in. This will be key as the Panthers plan to do a lot of power running and the center will be key in handling the nose guard or the middle linebacker.

--LB Brandon Lindsey moves to a standup position called "Panther linebacker", which gives him a lot of freedom and allows him to improve upon the 10 sacks he had last season even though he did not start every game.


--LT Juantez Hollins, a sophomore, won the battle at left tackle over senior Greg Gaskins because Coach Todd Graham expects the power running game rather than the air game to be the offensive staple.

--Lucas Nix, a veteran starter, was moved to a new position and will start at right guard after having played at right tackle.

--QB Anthony Gonzalez is suspended for the first two games due to a marijuana violation. While Graham maintains he remains a quarterback, Gonzalez has been working as an H-back because the coach believes he's too good an athlete not to get on the field in some way when he returns.

--LB Dan Mason, who missed a good deal of camp, will be held out of the opener as he recovers from injury.

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