Pittsburgh 20, Buffalo 6

Rushel Shell welcomed the wind and the rain, because he

understood the conditions were ideal for the Pittsburgh Panthers to

find a spark from their sagging run game.

Shell and fellow running back Ray Graham were up to the task,

scoring a touchdown each in helping Pitt snap a two-game losing

streak with a 20-6 win over the Buffalo Bulls in a non-conference

game on a slick and blustery late Saturday afternoon.

”Me and Ray got pretty excited about the rain, so we just knew

that sometime in the game it was going to depend on us,” Shell

said. ”It was pretty fun.”

Shell scored on a 4-yard run and finished with 40 yards rushing

plus a 41-yard catch off a screen pass that set up one of Kevin

Harper’s two field goals. Graham finished with 70 yards rushing and

scored on a 7-yard run.

The Panthers (3-4), in their final Big East Conference season,

avoided their first 2-5 start since 2001 and improved to 4-0

all-time against Buffalo and 29-3 against Mid-American Conference

opponents.

Pitt’s 126 yards rushing were 6 more than the team combined for

in its previous two games.

”Rain, sleet, snow, any weather, you’ve got to come ready to

play,” Graham said. ”It felt good. You know we’re not where we

need to be yet, but a win is a win.”

It was a familiar close-but-no-victory lament for Buffalo (1-6),

the ever struggling MAC program that has lost five straight and is

guaranteed finishing no better than .500 for the 15th time in 16

years.

At least the Bulls were far more competitive a week after they

were blown out 45-3 at Northern Illinois.

”I try to make sense of the way we’re being tested the way we

are now,” said coach Jeff Quinn, whose record dropped to 6-25

since taking over in 2010. ”We had our chances. We had our

opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize on them.”

Buffalo freshman Devin Campbell rushed for 104 yards, and John

Dunmore had seven catches for 72 yards. Quarterback Alex Zordich

went 23 of 41 for 165 yards and an interception, which led to

Shell’s score, which put Pitt ahead 13-0 midway through the second

quarter.

With 22 first downs and 334 yards offense, the Bulls had the

edge in numerous offensive statistics but not the final score. They

were instead undone by a lack of finish in a game in which they

settled for one field goal despite three trips inside the Panthers’

20.

It didn’t help that the Bulls were minus their top two offensive

threats. Running back Branden Oliver (week to week with right leg

injury) missed his fourth straight game, while receiver Alex Neutz

did not play after being shaken up last week.

”It’s frustrating. There’s really no other word for it,”

Zordich said. ”You look at the numbers, and you think you would

win the game. It’s just frustrating. We’re all tired of it.”

Kicker Patrick Clarke accounted for all the scoring, hitting

both field-goal attempts, from 27 and 41 yards.

Leading 13-6, the Panthers took control on their second

possession of the second half when Graham scored to cap a

nine-play, 58-yard drive.

Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri, the Big East’s most efficient

passer this season, sparked the drive by hitting all four passes

for 50 yards. It included a 25-yard pass in finding Mike Shanahan

open cutting across the middle to convert third-and-14.

Sunseri went 9 of 17 for 128 yards.

The Panthers’ defense bounced back in limiting Buffalo to two

field goals. That came a week after Pitt allowed Louisville to

score 24 points in an 11:02 span in a 45-35 loss to the

Cardinals.

Dan Mason, making his first start in two years filling in for

injured middle linebacker Shane Gordon (high ankle sprain), had 11

tackles and one of the team’s three sacks, while Jason Hendricks

had an interception.

The Panthers’ up-and-down season has featured a season-opening

loss to Youngstown State, an FCS program, and an upset then-No. 13

Virginia Tech 35-17.

Perhaps, this was the type of all-around performance that can

provide Pitt the momentum coach Paul Chryst was looking for from

his team in opening the second half of its season.

”By no means was it a perfect game,” Chryst said. ”But maybe

we can go back and say that we had to go win, and every group had

to be a part of it. And hopefully we can grow from that.”