Pittsburgh (2-4) at Buffalo (1-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 20, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: UB Stadium (30,000) -- Buffalo, New York. Television: MASN, ESPN3, Big East TV. Home Record: Pitt 2-2,Buffalo 1-1. Away Record: Pitt 0-2, Buffalo 0-4. Neutral Record: Pitt 0-0, Buffalo 0-0. Conference Record: Pitt 0-3, Buffalo 0-3. Series Record: Pittsburgh leads, 3-0.
GAME NOTES: With three losses and no wins against league opponents, the Pittsburgh Panthers will step out of conference play for a duel with the Buffalo Bulls at UB Stadium this weekend.
The Panthers dropped a 45-35 decision at home to a nationally ranked Louisville squad in its most recent matchup to fall to 0-3 in the Big East this season. The defeat was the second in as many games for Pitt and the fourth overall this season. Long gone is the momentum the Panthers seemed to pick up with consecutive victories at the end of September which came on the heels of an 0-2 start.
Buffalo was routed 45-3 in its third straight road game against Northern Illinois when it last hit the field. The loss was the fourth straight for the Bulls and the sixth straight against FBS opponents. Buffalo's only win this season was a 56-34 over FCS foe Morgan State.
This will be the fourth straight season these squads have met after the series began in 2008. Pitt has won all three of the previous meetings, including a 35-16 victory at Heinz Field last season.
Pitt has had no trouble piling up the yards this season with the second-most prolific offense in the Big East in terms of total yards per game (445.5 ypg). The Panthers have also scored at a relatively high clip with their 27.5 points per game average third in the conference.
Going against tradition though is how Pittsburgh has gone about picking up those yards with the squad's passing attack the focal point rather than the run. On the season the Panthers are second in the Big East in passing yards per game (300.5). The ascension of Tino Sunseri has been the driving force behind this aerial renaissance. Sunseri is second in the Big East in completion percentage (70.4) and passing yards (1,750) while tied for fourth in touchdown passes (10). Sunseri has also limited his own mistakes with just a pair of interceptions.
Receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan have been the primary benefactors of the increased emphasis on the pass. Street has a Big East leading 39 receptions this season for 514 yards, while Shanahan is right behind with 29 receptions (third) and 525 yards.
The shift to the pass has come despite the Panthers still having the services of 2011 All-Big East running back Ray Graham. The senior has still been productive (439 yards, four TDs) but has shared more carries with Rushel Shell (327 yards) and is not on the same pace as he was last season. Graham has adapted though and is third on the team in receptions (18).
Pittsburgh's defense has struggled to keep teams from picking up yards primarily due to a lack of a pass rush. Pittsburgh is last in the Big East in sacks (10) and second to last in tackles for loss (32). Those numbers have come with the fifth best total defense (343.5 ypg).
Shane Gordon (33 tackles, five for loss) and Aaron Donald (18 tackles, five for loss) have been the most effective in stopping teams in the backfield. Tyrone Ezell (2.5 sacks) has been the only pass rusher that has consistently gotten to the quarterback. Jason Hendricks has been impressive with a team- leading 37 tackles and three interceptions.
Offensively Buffalo is averaging just below 400 yards of total offense a game (399.7), but is scoring only 22.8 points per game. Much of that lack of scoring can be attributed to the Bulls' inability to hold onto the ball. Buffalo has the worst turnover margin in the Mid-American Conference (-10) this season.
Starting quarterback Alex Zordich has been guilty of six interceptions including two in the loss to Northern Illinois after which he was pulled for backup Joe Licata. Zordich has been unable to consistently complete passes this season, connecting on only 51.7 2percent of his attempts this season. He has 971 yards passing and eight touchdowns and has had a quarterback efficiency rating of less than 100 in three different games.
Alex Neutz is far and away the most dynamic receiver on the team. Neutz has 32 receptions for 512 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Devon Hughes is second to Neutz in each of those carries with only 17 receptions, 194 yards and one touchdown.
Zordich's inefficiencies in passing are partially due to Buffalo's emphasis on the run. Buffalo is the fourth-leading rushing attack in the MAC (200.2 ypg) of which Zordich has amassed 355 yards on 70 carries. Zordich has been called on to run the ball even more in the last three games with starting running back Branden Oliver sidelined with a leg injury.
Buffalo's defensive efforts have allowed teams to keep pace in terms of yards gained (401.3 ypg) but the Bulls are yielding a generous 34.8 points per game.
Khalil Mack has been a force up front for Buffalo thus far with 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, which lead the team and rank second and fifth, respectively in the MAC. Colby Way (four sacks) has also been impressive in the pass rush, while Lee Skinner (45 tackles) leads the team in total tackles.
A change from conference play may be just what Pittsburgh needs at this point in the season. Despite going on the road, the Panthers' offensive prowess should overcome any homefield advantage for Buffalo.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 30, Buffalo 13
10/17 10:54:34 ET