Ray Graham ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns as Pittsburgh kicked off new coach Todd Graham's tenure with a 35-16 victory over Buffalo on Saturday night. Tino Sunseri threw for 179 yards and a score for the Panthers, who needed a full half to find their legs while playing in their coach's uptempo system.
Pitt broke it open in the third quarter behind Ray Graham, who scored on runs of 3 and 5 yards to help Pitt get some breathing room. He later added a 1-yard plunge to complete the second 200-yard game of his career. Cincinnati transfer Chazz Anderson threw for 276 yards and ran for a touchdown for Buffalo, but also threw a costly interception in the third quarter that allowed Pittsburgh to finally break loose.
Branden Oliver ran for a career-high 114 yards and a score for the Bulls. Todd Graham has dubbed his brand of football ''high-octane'' and promised if his offense could run 80 plays a game it would score at least five touchdowns. The Panthers only needed 66 snaps to produce five scores against the Bulls, but the high-octane performance will have to wait as Pitt operated in fits and starts for long stretches against a MAC team coming off a miserable 2-10 season. Pitt operated quickly, as Graham promised, just not always efficiently.
The Panthers often went just 15-18 seconds in between snaps but struggled to produce quality with their quantity. Not that they didn't try. Sunseri went deep on the first play of the season but overthrew an open Mike Shanahan by a good five yards, a recurring theme for most of the night as Sunseri struggled with his accuracy. He completed 16 of 28 passes, almost all of them underneath routes his receivers turned into solid if not explosive gains. His best play was handing the ball off to Ray Graham, who has embraced the expectations that come with following in the footsteps of former Pitt stars Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. The Panthers needed to rely on Graham after an uneven first half in which they managed just one touchdown, missed two field goals and had Sunseri punt - yes, punt - twice rather than go for it on fourth down in Buffalo territory.
Buffalo trailed just 7-3 at the half and started the third quarter by driving to the Pitt 31. Facing third-and-11, Anderson tried to throw a screen pass. The ball ended up in the hands of Pitt defensive lineman Chas Alecxih, who returned it 47 yards to the Buffalo 20. The Panthers needed just two plays - both Graham runs - to open up a 14-3 lead.
The Bulls responded with a 2-yard run by Anderson but Pitt came right back as Graham capped a 74-yard drive with a 5-yard burst up the middle. Oliver, who carried the ball a clock-chewing 35 times, pulled Buffalo within 21-16 with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 13:26 to play. The two-point conversion failed and Pitt got the ball at the 40 when the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds.
Sunseri deftly guided the Panthers 60 yards in six plays, the last one a 17-yard strike to Shanahan. Buffalo's Ed Young dropped a sure touchdown on the Bulls' next possession, and Graham finished off his day with a 74-yard run to set up his final touchdown.
Alex Neutz had 10 receptions for 108 yards for the Bulls while Anderson completed 32 of 49 passes. Buffalo dominated time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes, but couldn't produce the big plays when it needed them.