It wasn't anything special, but it didn't matter. Pitt hadn't won in nearly a month, and despite rainy and windy conditions in Buffalo, the Panthers gladly accepted a 20-6 win over the Bulls. Pitt improves to 3-4 on the season, and will now look to get its first conference win, starting next week with a noon start against Temple.
Ray Graham led Pitt with 74 yards and a touchdown, while Rushel Shell added 35 yards on the ground and a touchdown of his own. Tino Sunseri completed just 9-of-17 passes for 128 yards. In the second half, he completed 7-of-11 of those passes.
"It good to get a win, even though we had to fight through some things to get it," head coach Paul Chryst said afterwards. "At different times, all three phases had to do some things. The weather was a factor, the wind probably more than anything. The guys did enough to come away with the win."
On defense, Dan Mason made his first start in over two years, September, 11, 2010 to be exact. He started in place of Shane Gordon, who was out with a high ankle sprain, which he suffered last week against Louisville. Todd Thomas made his first start of the season, starting at WILL linebacker. Both players tied for the team-lead with 11 tackles.
"It's been a conversation since I've been here; about Dan," Chryst said. "He certainly was productive."
Kevin Harper got Pitt on the board 45-yard field goal in the first quarter. it capped a six-play, 17 yard drive that lasted two and a half minutes. Earlier in the week, Paul Chryst said Pitt was going to need Harper to make a kick.
"There will come a time, where we're going to need Kevin," Chryst said on Monday. "He's going to come through. No one wants to be better and make every field goal than Kevin. That's all you can ask of him."
Harper backed that statement up, making a 45-yard attempt--his longest field goal of the season to give Pitt the early lead."You have to get your confidence from within," Harper said after the game. "We just came out here and got the win."
After a three-and-out for the Pitt defense, Shell entered the game on Pitt's third series of the game and took charge. On his first play he rushed for 16 yards. On the next set, with Pitt facing a 2nd-and-7, Shell broke open a screen pass for a gain of 41 yards to the Buffalo 6 yard-line. While the Panthers were unable to punch it in the end zone, Harper added to his confidence, kicking a 22-yard field goal. Pitt led 6-0. It was an eight-play, 61-yard drive. Shell was responsible for all 61 yards.
"We always work on (screen passes) in practice," Shell said. "I don't know if its designed to get 41 yards, but you just get as many yards as you can.
"At the time, they were bringing a blitz. They brought a lot of blitzes, so we were prepared for it."
Buffalo was gaining momentum on the first series of the second half, especially after a pass interface call against Pitt. Two players later, quarterback Alex Zordich threw a pass right to Jason Hendricks, who picked it off and returned it to the Buffalo 27. The interception was the fourth of the season for Hendricks.
Shell capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, giving Pitt a 13-0 lead. Nothing fancy on this drive, only Pitt taking eight plays to go the 27 yards over a four and a half-minute span. Time of possession was starting to play a factor in wearing Buffalo's defense down.
Buffalo's offense, however, showed some resilience on its next series, despite the interception. Zordich guided the Bulls on a 11-play, 55-yard drive. Patrick Clarke added a 27-yard field goal to get the Bulls on the board. Pitt still led 13-3 with a little over four minutes in the half.
Pitt had the ball for a total of 12:19 after that Shell touchdown. Buffalo had it 8:49. Pitt looked like they were wearing down Buffalo, but the Bulls offense rebounded after that turnover. After Pitt went ip 13-0, Buffalo possessed the ball for 7:35, adding two field goals. Pitt ran just four plays, including kneeling on the ball to end the half. The Panthers had the ball 59 seconds. They still led 13-6, taking a seven-point lead to the locker room.
Pitt went three-and-out for the second time in its previous three drives, to start the second half. The other drive was when they took a knee to end the half. The defense held Buffalo for the first time since the midway point of the second quarter.
When Pitt started its second series of the half, the passing game got more involved. After completing two passes in the first half--both on screens--the passing game went more vertical. The end result was a 7-yard touchdown run by Graham. Sunseri completed all four passes attempted on the drive for a total of 50 yards, including a big 23-yarder to Mike Shanahan over the middle.
Sunseri said after the game the weather had no factor on how the playcalling was going in regards to the passing game, or how it was being executed.
"You have to be able to take what the defense gives you," Sunseri said. "They're letting us have wide open rushing lanes, and we have to be able to take that."
Just like Pitt's previous touchdown, Buffalo answered with another sustainable drive. Unfortunately, when attempting the field goal, Buffalo couldn't get the snap or placement down. They tried an impromptu fake field goal which failed. Pitt still led 20-6. Even though Buffalo got in field goal range following the Pitt touchdown, the Pitt defense was looking more sure of itself in putting pressure on Zordich. Aaron Donald had a hurry and three tackles on the drive, and Devin Cook broke up a screen pass, tackling Jimmy Gordon for a loss of five after the catch.
Pitt started at its own 20 after the botched field goal attempt, as the fourth quarter began. The Panthers drove 32 yards, and even converted a 4th-and-8. Sunseri completed another long pass to Shanahan, of the middle, for a gain of 23 yards. Unfortunately, Pitt was flagged for holding on the play, negating it. Pitt punted, and appeared to have recovered a fumble off the return. Pitt would have taken over inside the Buffalo 5, but the officials ruled that the ball was downed.
Buffalo then drove the ball to the Pitt 34. The key play of the drive being a roughing the passer call against Donald, which set the Bulls up at their own 48. They drove as far as the Pitt 34. After converting three other fourth down attempts, they went successful this time. Ray Vinopal came up and wrapped Zordich for a sack, after he was flushed out of the pocket. Pitt took over on downs.
Buffalo would get one more crack at the end zone on its last series. It appeared that Zordich hit Rudy Johnson for a touchdown pass. Buffalo was flagged for having an in eligible man downfield. Instead of getting its first touchdown of the game, the Bulls retreated to the Pitt 24 with a 1st-and-15. After a 13-yard run from Zordich, Devin Campbell ran it in from nine yards out. Again, though, Buffalo was flagged for a pair of substitution infractions. The Bulls had to start over again with a 1st-and-goal at the 12. The Pitt defense held on downs, fittingly, as Mason wrapped up Campbell after a short completion.
"We just wanted to get up out of here," Mason said of the last play. "We didn't want them to score, and we needed someone to make a play.