Last-chance baseball

Pittsburgh to celebrate visit from Buffalo by lighting their river on fire


UB Bulls’ battered offensive line expects stiff test

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blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Change has been refreshing for the Pitt Panthers; the university lured Todd Graham from Tulsa to replace Dave Wannstedt, now assistant head coach with the Bills.  Although Wannstedt won an average of nine games over the last three seasons, he never won a Big East Championship in his six seasons at the helm, signaling the end of his reign.

The new-look Pittsburgh squad—with new systems in all three phases of the game—hosts the Buffalo Bulls at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Heinz Field.  Tickets are available here!  The SB Nation folks are predicting a blowout in favor of Pitt, and it’s tough to argue with their rationale. 

The Panthers return eight defensive starters, and injuries have ravaged a Buffalo offensive line that will trot out three freshman Saturday—left tackle Gabriel Barbe fills in for Pat Wilson (shoulder), Dillon Guy will likely fill in at center for Josh Violanti and Andre Davis has a strange-hold on the right guard job.  Jasen Carlsen, the backup center, is in a fitness race for Saturday.  The pressure will be on upperclassmen Matt Ostrowski and Graham Whinery in terms of communication and organization.  Six of Pittsburgh’s seven front seven starters are seniors with a wealth of experience—Brandon Linsey, making a slight transition to 3-4 end after tallying 10 sacks last year, must be licking his chops at the thought of facing Barbe.

As The Buffalo News’ Bob DiCesare wisely noted in Tuesday’s press conference, there are plenty of similarities between Pittsburgh’s offensive attack and Buffalo’s—at least if the Bulls were healthy.  Both offenses will operate at a high tempo out of the spread, but there’s a renewed commitment to the run for Pitt.  Ray Graham replaces Dion Lewis as the Panthers’ top back, but he averaged over six yards per tote last year in a complementary role. 

In light of the Bulls’ dinged up offensive line, however, expect Chazz Anderson to throw quick passes early and often Saturday.  That way, the line won’t have to sustain blocks as long, and Buffalo’s giant wide receivers—the team’s strength—will see more of the football.  When Buffalo’s o-line returns to health, however, Quinn, an offensive line guru, will not abandon the run as quickly as last year.  Branden Oliver, who managed only 2.9 yards per carry last year, has broken a few long touchdown runs in training camp and seems to be blossoming under the tutelage of new position coach Matt Simon. 

Regardless of how talented Barbe, Guy and the red-shirt Davis are—and all three have been on campus since January (at the latest), so they’re not typical true freshmen—the transition from inter-squad preseason to live-game action against a high-major foe is steep—probably overwhelmingly steep.  Will Pitt’s defensive front dictate the outcome of the game?  It’s possible, but all eyes will be on how Anderson deals with the heat.

Additional notes:

— Adam Redden, Josh Violanti, Dalton Barksdale, Jake Reeder and Pat Wilson are expected to miss the game, with Violanti only having a glimmer of hope to suit up.  John Syty, slated to start this year at middle linebacker, will sit out the season with concussion complications.  Red-shirt Lee Skinner seems to be the favorite to start alongside Pettigrew in the middle of Buffalo’s linebacking corps.

— Although the official two-deep has yet to be released, the secondary will probably look like this on Saturday: cornerbacks are Najja Johnson and Cortney Lester, while the safeties are Isaac Baugh and Josh Copeland.  Expect Redden to challenge for Baugh’s job once he returns to health, but nagging injuries have made his playing time sparse so far in his Bulls’ career.

— Worth a reminder that this will only be Chazz Anderson’s fourth career start.  He is a fifth year senior, true, but will he show the poise of a veteran that knows the particulars of Quinn’s offensive system, or will he panic because he’s lacked big-game experience?  Both Alex Zordich and Jerry Davis have started more collegiate games.

TAGGED: gabriel barbe, mac, pittsburgh panthers, ub football, university at buffalo

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