While Pittsburgh, and its fans, were on the edge throughout, the Panthers actually held at least a 2-3 touchdown lead the entire game except for the first half when the Bulls drove for a score to get within 14-7. But Pitt came right back to increase its advantage to the aforementioned status with a late first-quarter touchdown and another midway through the second.
The most egregious errors by the Pitt defense was allowing two long touchdowns to Buffalo senior wideout Naaman Roosevelt, for 54 yards after the Panthers went up by three scores and for 67 yards with just 35 seconds remaining in the first half. That was one appeared to be a killer, but actually wasn't deadly at all.
The Pitt defense only allowed seven second-half points, was spectacular against the run -- 2.2 yards on 30 carries -- and forced four turnovers. There were three fumbles, including one returned for a touchdown by Greg Williams. So, there certainly were positive points for the defense, but a lot to work on.
The most troubling occurrence, or recurrence, that was numerous missed tackles. And few Panthers' defenders were immune. There were a handful of key missed tackles in the opening game and that stat didn't improve against Buffalo by any means. This situation is correctable, unless the players just stink -- and that's certainly not the case here -- but it could be problematic.
Sure tackling is crucial in every game, of course, but it will be critical against Navy. The Midshipmen are a triple-option offensive attack and ran for 290 yards on 69 -- yes, 69 -- carries (4.2 per run) and four touchdowns in a 42-14 win against Louisiana Tech. The previous week, in a tough 31-27 loss at Ohio State, Navy ran for 186 on 44 attempts (4.2 per run) and two scores.
Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs is a true double-threat, passing and running, as he threw for 156 yards (9-for-13) and ran 18 times for 83 yards at OSU. In the win against Louisiana Tech, Dobbs ran 25 times for 64 yards, but lost 17 on two sacks. He also completed 5 of 8 passes for 103 yards. So, while he's not the classic drop-back passer, Dobbs will be quite dangerous next week. And sure tackling will be at a premium.
On the other side of the ball, there was a lot to like about the Pitt offense. The running game was in high gear again, with freshman Dion Lewis leading the way with 190 yards and two touchdowns, including an 85-yard explosion. Lewis again was the key to Pitt's offensive attack, but the offensive line again deserves credit for opening some gaping holes.
The O-line also did not give up a sack. Quarterback Bill Stull was fairly sharp and now has thrown five touchdowns against just one interception. While the defense had some big plays, specifically the forcing four turnovers, it can be said without much question that Pitt's offense won the Buffalo game.
This had to be unexpected to many Panthers fans who have questioned the talent level at several offensive positions, as well as the coaching philosophy and play-calling. Certainly, there have been reasons for these questions, but now so far. The offensive line has been good. The running game excellent, and the passing game solid.
The tight end was even used, for Pete's sake, whomever he is. While it would be nice if Nate Byham got a few passes tossed his way, it was great to see Dorin Dickerson finally get some attention. His numbers the opening two weeks can only benefit Byham and the receivers, and as the passing game diversifies the running game should flourish even more.
About the only fault one could find with Stull is that it would be nice to spread the ball around a bit and get it more downfield to sophomore wideout Jonathan Baldwin. Those sideways passes only get sideways yardage, and that doesn't count. And the bubble screens, please shelve those. The defense is right there, and the offensive players can't get out of their own way. They are poorly designed and not executed too well, either.
But I'm nitpicking. These two wins were beautiful from a Pitt status. While Pitt has been a pretty good road team recently, wins at Mid-American Conference schools are no guarantee for the Panthers in the Dave Wannstedt era. Not at home, either, if anyone forgot about Bowling Green.
So, these were two good wins. Not perfect, mind you, but good, solid wins against two teams Pitt should have beaten. That's what good teams do. The Panthers aren't a real good team yet, but they're getting there. The defense dominated the first game, and the offense won the second. That's not too bad. I didn't even mention the return game. How about that Cameron Saddler?
Saddler's going to break one for a touchdown sooner rather than later. Four run-backs for 127 yards. That's a stellar 31.75 yards per return. And Aaron Smith's been solid on punt returns, although I'd like to see Saddler there, too.
But that might be asking too much right now. I'm just happy to get two wins and looking forward to Navy. Pitt's schedule gets progressively more difficult, so improvement must be made for continued success.
But I would expect the Panthers to improve a little more each week. That might not be enough for some fans, but it might be just what's needed to keep Pitt on the winning track. And that's all that really counts.
Everything else is open to discussion.
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