PITTSBURGH, PA – Second-year head coach Jeff Quinn told the assembled media back in August that this was not last year's Bulls. In the 2011 opener at Big East power Pittsburgh, Buffalo proved it.
Fighting through the adversity of opening on the road in front of over 48,000 fans and trailing throughout the contest, the Bulls showed uncommon fight and determination, constantly rebounding when things looked bleak before finally succumbing to Pittsburgh, 35-16 at Heinz Field.
Similar to the Bulls contest here in 2008, Buffalo was down by less than a touchdown inside the final 12 minutes before the Panthers could put things away.
"I give credit to Pittsburgh, they are a very good football team but I really liked the way our team fought tonight," said UB head coach Jeff Quinn. "We will look at the film and realize there were plays to be made out there but I love the effort every one of our kids gave. We were able to get some turnovers, we were able to manage the second half much better as an offense and we did a much better job of executing our running game and that made a big difference."
The Bulls got several outstanding offensive performances in the game. Senior quarterback Chazz Anderson completed 32-of-49 passes for 276 yards and ran for a touchdown in his first career game. Anderson's 49 attempts are seventh all-time for a single game and the second most in UB's Division I-A era. His 32 completions are tied for third behind only all-time leading passer Drew Willy (who had 34 at Kent State, 11/24/07 and 33 at Miami (11/3/07).
"Chazz has a lot of confidence in himself," said Quinn. "He was very, very positive on the sidelines, very business-like, the kids are responding to him. This is a real solid competitor and a great addition to our football program and I think it's going to make us a much better football team.
Sophomore tailback Branden Oliver had a career-high 114 yards rushing on 35 carries, becoming the first UB running back to go over 100 yards since the final game of the 2009 season. His 35 carries were the fifth most in school history.
Sophomore receiver Alex Neutz had a career-best 10 catches for 108 yards – the first player since Marcus Rivers last year against Rhode Island to have 10 catches in a game and go over 100 yards receiving.
Pittsburgh was not able to put the game away until the Bulls misfired on a fourth down pass in the final three minutes four minutes from the Pitt 12-yard line and tack on a late touchdown. The final drive was set up by a sack and forced fumble by sophomore Khalil Mack, who had a monster game. Mack, a freshman All-American last year, had five tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three quarterback hurries.
The UB offense got untracked in the second half behind Anderson and Oliver as Buffalo was only outgained 410-403 total yards by the Panthers, picked to finish second in the Big East by the media.
The Bulls defense started the game in a difficult spot as Pittsburgh's Buddy Jackson returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to the Bulls' 40-yard line. However, the UB defense made a huge early statement, limiting the Panthers to just two yards and forcing a punt.
The Bulls picked up a pair of first downs on their first series, behind the powerful running of Oliver – who had 23 yards on three carries – but could not continue the drive into scoring territory and were forced to punt.
The Panthers took that second series and dented the scoreboard first. Zach Brown finished an eight play, 54-yard drive with a six yard touchdown run. With 9:10 left on the clock. After the PAT, the Panthers led 7-0.
Despite an overwhelming advantage in plays and yards in the first quarter, the UB defense bent but did not break in keeping the Panthers off the scoreboard. Three times during drives that started in the first quarter, the Panthers pierced the UB 40-yard line without scoring. Twice the Bulls forced punts and the third time, a sack by sophomore Colby Way stopped a Pitt drive at the Bulls' 15-yard line. Kevin Harper's 32-yard field goal missed and the score remained 7-0 early in the second quarter.
The Bulls defense came up big again midway through the second quarter on another lengthy (12 plays) Pitt drive. On a third and nine play, Fred Branch and Josh Copeland snuffed out a screen pass for a short gain and Harper missed his second straight field goal, this time from 47 yards out.
The Bulls then responded offensively. Senior quarterback Chazz Anderson heated up on the following drive, connecting on four straight passes – two of them for 20 yards total to Neutz – as UB moved into field goal range. Senior Peter Fardon came in to boot his first career field goal from 40 yards out to cut the Pitt lead to 7-3 with 4:33 left in the half.
Despite running 17 less plays than the Panthers, Buffalo went to halftime trailing just 7-3.
The first big play of the game came on Buffalo's first possession of the second half. After strong running by Oliver moved UB to the Pitt 31-yard line, Anderson's screen pass was intercepted by Chas Alecxih and returned to the UB 20-yard line. It was the first turnover of the game by either team.
Two Ray Graham runs later, the first for 17 and the second from three yards out, and the Panthers were in the end zone for the second time. After the PAT, the Panthers led 14-3 with 10:01 left in the third.
If it looked like the Bulls might fold, however, they quickly reminded everyone that this was a new year.
Behind Anderson's senior leadership and the hard running of Oliver, the Bulls drove 76 yards on 13 plays to get themselves right back in it. Oliver ran for 21 yards and Anderson used his feet and legs to get the Bulls in the end zone. Anderson completed four-of-five passes for 29 yards, added a 13-yard run for a first down and then covered the final two yards for the first touchdown of the season. With 4:22 left on the clock, the Bulls trailed 14-10.
However, the Panthers had an answer of their own, driving 74 yards in eight plays, capped by a five-yard touchdown run by Ray Graham, to make the score 21-10 with 2:29 left in the third quarter.
Again the Bulls offense responded. An 11-yard completion to Fred Lee and a 15-yard facemask penalty quickly put the Bulls at the Pittsburgh 38-yard line. After a clutch five-yard pass from Anderson to tight end Jimmy Gordon on third-and-four, Neutz made an incredible leaping catch while tip-toeing the right sideline for a 20-yard completion to the Pitt three-yard line. Two plays later, Oliver scored his first career touchdown, driving in from one yard out. The Bulls went for two points unsuccessfully and trailed 21-16 with 13:27 left in the game.
Unfortunately for a game Bulls team, the Panthers had just enough left in the tank to pull away in the final 13 minutes.
Buffalo will play its home opener next Saturday when they host SUNY rival Stony Brook. Kickoff is at 6 pm at UB Stadium on Heroes Night.
BULL-etins: Captains for the game were senior offensive tackle Matt Ostrowski, senior wide receiver Terrell Jackson, senior nose guard Richie Smith and junior linebacker Jaleel Verser…the following Bulls made their first career starts in the Blue and White: Dillon Guy, Andre Davis, Jimmy Gordon, Chazz Anderson, Lee Skinner, Najja Johnson, Isaac Baugh and Cortney Lester…Guy, Davis, Skinner and Lester are all freshman…Colby Way's sack in the second quarter was the first of his career…Peter Fardon has 130 punts in his career but waited four seasons to attempt his first field goal, and made it count by connecting from 40 yards out in the second quarter… Oliver became the first Bull since Brandon Thermilus in the season finale at Kent State in 2009 to go over 100 yards rushing… Oliver's previous high was 71 yards at Baylor last year the only Bull in the Division I-A era to have more rushes in a game is all-time leading rusher James Starks…the Bulls had two rushing touchdowns in the game, they had three all of last season…Alex Neutz' 10 receptions ties him for 10th place all-time in single game catches…. …redshirt freshman linebacker Lee Skinner made his first start and led the Bulls in tackles with nine (five solos)…wide receiver Marcus Rivers had eight catches for 83 yards as a total of seven players caught passes for the Bulls…Devon Hughes made his first career reception, while JUCO transfer Wyatt Cahill had his first career fumble recovery in the fourth quarter…junior linebacker Scott Pettigrew, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, had six tackles in his return to the lineup…senior punter Jake Schum had a solid night, kicking five times for a 41.4 average, including a 54-yarder.