Is Buffalo Trip A Trap Game?

As a preview for what to expect when the Pitt football team travels to Buffalo, N.Y. Saturday to face the defending Mid-American Conference champion Bulls, the Panthers need to look no further in their past than a trip to Athens, Ohio to play MAC foe Ohio University in 2005.

It was Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt's inaugural season at his alma mater, and the Panthers already had been thumped by Notre Dame at home in his debut. The overall performance against MAC lightweight Ohio wasn't much better, as Pitt was met by a raucous, overflow crowd and didn't handle it too well.

"Our guys need to be aware of the environment they're going to be playing in,'' Wannstedt said. "We went on the road last year and played in front of some hostile crowds, and we handled it very well. They know that we're going against a good team. The guys that were here last year know that the game (against Buffalo) wasn't won until the fourth quarter.''

There are six players on this year's roster who traveled to that 2005 Ohio game, including two who saw some action in fifth-year senior Gus Mustakas and sixth-year senior Adam Gunn. Fifth-year seniors Shane Murray, Bill Stull, Mick Williams and Oderick Turner were freshmen on the travel squad for that game.

"What we've heard is that this probably will be the biggest home game for Buffalo in the program's history,'' Mustakas said. "I'm not sure if that's true or not, but we're going to be ready for it. We know that the crowd's going to be crazy, so we're going to be ready for anything this week.

"I remember my true freshman year, we went into Ohio and they beat us. Buffalo has a good team, and they can beat us if we don't keep focused for this one. We can't let anything shake our concentration and focus. It's going to be a tough crowd, but we've played in front of one before. We'll be ready.''

Mustakas later recalled the aftermath, a 16-10 overtime loss, as the Ohio fans stormed the field swinging the thunder sticks handed out before the game. It was all the Panthers could do to get out of their with some dignity let alone any serious injuries.

Pitt started 1-4 in Wannstedt's first season, and the loss at Ohio severely damaged the good will established after the coach returned to his alma mater.

"I definitely have to let our guys know this game won't be a walk-through just because they're a MAC team,'' Mustakas said. "I remember going into that Ohio game thinking that we'd win big. We lost to Notre Dame, and it was a tough game. But we got through it, and we thought Ohio would be no problem.

"We took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown, and we thought that was it. They would fade away after that, but they didn't. Their crowd kept them in the game, and we kept them in the game. We know it's going to be the same atmosphere at Buffalo, maybe crazier, but we're going to be ready for it.''

Buffalo is commemorating its MAC football title and regular-season men's basketball title, along with several other sports and individual crowns with a Championship Day celebration beginning Saturday at noon at UB Stadium. Capacity is just 29,013, but the stadium should be filled to the brim, and the crowd should be wild to face Pitt.

But this isn't anything the Panthers haven't faced before. And at least they've played Buffalo as recently as last season.

"Earlier this week, Coach Wannstedt showed us that last year's Buffalo game was a lot closer than we might have thought,'' Gunn said. "So, we need to stay focused on the task at hand and not look past them or they'll beat us. And I'm very confident that we won't take any team for granted this year.

"I played in that game at Ohio, and this game is comparable. It's Buffalo's big game. Their coach was on ESPN this week, and he said that their big win this year would be against Pitt. I already mentioned that to our team, so we're hyped up about that. We know the pressure's on us, but we'll be ready.

"We've been in this situation before,'' Gunn added. "The way things went last year against Bowling Green, we know it's easy to get beat if you aren't focused and prepared for anything. And the senior leaders, like myself, we're going to make sure that doesn't happen at any time this season.''

Add senior tight end Nate Byham to that group.

"This is a big stepping stone for us, another out-of-conference game, and it's a big step up from Youngstown State,'' Byham said. "Buffalo, they won the MAC last year, and they have a lot of talent. They're not a team to be overlooked. Like Coach Wannstedt showed us in our team meetings, we were only beating these guys by one point in the fourth quarter last year.

"So, they have a lot of good players, and it's going to be a tough game. Some teams might want to overlook a MAC school, but we won't do it. And if we worry about our game and what we do, we should be all right against them. They're a good team, but I have faith in our team that if we remain disciplined and play to our ability we'll be all right.''

And Pitt certainly needs to take its game up a notch from the opening week against Youngstown State.

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