Pitt defense shaky in victory over Buffalo

| Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

AMHERST, N.Y. — Pitt recorded its most prolific scoring outburst in nearly a decade Saturday afternoon, but it wasn't all smiles afterward.

The Pitt defense allowed 500 total yards — 433 passing — as Buffalo rewrote much of its Division I-A record book at UB Stadium.

"We didn't play good at all in the secondary," junior strong safety Dom DeCicco said. "We can't play like that every week and expect to win."

Because Pitt scored 54 points, the most by the Panthers since rolling up 55 against Temple in 1999, the defensive breakdowns weren't as glaring.

Still, the missed tackles and gaudy passing numbers by a sophomore making his second career start were a point of concern outside the Panthers' locker room. It was the fourth-highest yardage total allowed in coach Dave Wannstedt's four-plus seasons.

"We're happy with the win, but we are very disappointed with the way we played," said senior linebacker Adam Gunn, who had three sacks to give him five on the season. "We gave up way too many points."

Wannstedt said missed tackles in the secondary were among his biggest concerns from the 38-3 victory over Youngstown State in the opener.

There were once again many culprits in the Pitt secondary:

· Blown assignments by the Pitt safeties led to Jesse Rack's 24-yard touchdown reception down the seam in the first quarter.

· Missed tackles turned a middle screen to star wide receiver Namaan Roosevelt into a 54-yard touchdown on third-and-14 in the second quarter.

· DeCicco tried for an interception with 33 seconds to play in the first half but missed, and Roosevelt's one-handed catch became a 67-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 34-20.

· Senior cornerback Jovani Chappel was flagged for pass interference in the third quarter and allowed a 39-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter — with the outcome still very much in doubt — when Terrell Jackson ripped the ball out of his arms.

· Elijah Fields, playing when free safety Andrew Taglianetti left the game in the first half with a knee injury, took a bad angle on Hamlin's 32-yard gain on second-and-24 early in the fourth quarter.

"Missed tackles were big," cornerback Aaron Berry said. "All of it was missed tackles. We've just got to get better at tackling."

Said Wannstedt, "It's always a concern. We will just keep working at it. We missed some tackles, but I'm going to give (Buffalo) credit."

Pitt was unable to put away Buffalo until the final minutes, despite amassing 381 total yards and causing four turnovers. The Bulls had the ball with a chance to cut Pitt's lead to five points (down, 40-27) midway through the fourth quarter.

The reason was shaky defense. The Mid-American Conference team gained 500 total yards for the first time since 2001 (against Ohio). Sophomore Zach Maynard completed 24 of 35 pass attempts for 400 yards and four touchdowns.

Roosevelt and Brett Hamlin torched Pitt for a combined for 18 receptions for 306 yards and two touchdowns.

Roosevelt caught six passes for 157 yards, the highest single-game total in a record-breaking career that will land him in the NFL draft next spring. He had touchdown receptions of 54 and 67 yards in a five-minute span late in the first half. Hamlin caught 12 passes for 149 yards, both career highs.

For the second week in a row, the opponent did its best to take Pitt's gifted defensive line out of the game. Coach Turner Gill used quick screens and three-step drops to prevent the Pitt front from applying pressure. It was up to the secondary - mainly the safeties - to make tackles.

"When they try to neutralize our defensive line, that's when everyone needs to step up," Gunn said.

Pitt will need to correct the problems quickly. Navy, which had 342 total yards at Ohio State, visits Heinz Field on Saturday. The Midshipmen led the nation in rushing last year.

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