Defensive line is a strong area for Panthers
The strength of Pitt's football team will get a chance to flex its muscles Saturday. The Panthers' vaunted defensive line will confront a young, injury-ravaged Buffalo offensive line in the season opener at Heinz Field.
"I am anxious to turn them loose and see how they are going to react," coach Todd Graham said. "I expect them to dominate whatever week it is."
Buffalo, coming off a 2-10 season under first-year coach Jeff Quinn, is starting three freshmen, a former WPIAL star coming back from season-ending injury and a junior making his first start at center.
Pitt counters with a deep, experienced and talented defensive front that Graham has raved about all summer. The Panthers lost defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus to the NFL Draft but still can rotate a half-dozen linemen in their new 3-4 scheme.
They are paced by fifth-year seniors Myles Caragein, Chas Alecxih and Justin Hargrove and rising sophomore star Aaron Donald, an end. Pass-rushing Panther linebacker Brandon Lindsey (team-high 10 sacks) is on four national award watch lists.
"I've challenged those guys to be the best in the country," Graham said, "and that is where they have set their standards."
Injuries to left tackle Pat Wilson (shoulder) and center Josh Violanti (undisclosed) have forced Buffalo to shuffle its offensive line. The Bulls settled on tackle Gabriel Barbe and guard Dillon Guy for the left side; they're true freshman Canadians averaging 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds. Right guard Andre Davis (6-4, 315) is a redshirt freshman.
The experience comes from junior center Graham Whinery (6-4, 300), who started 12 games at right guard last season, and senior right tackle and former Highlands High standout Matt Ostrowski (6-6, 320), who missed the final eight games last season with a broken leg.
Caragein said the Panthers are more focused on their schemes than on the inexperience of their opponents.
"When freshmen come in, it's definitely going to show," he said. "That's something we look at, but at the end of the day, we're looking at what's best for our defense. We're not going to exploit just one spot."
Senior quarterback Chazz Anderson, who transferred from Cincinnati in the offseason and was granted immediate eligibility as a graduate student, is a mobile runner in the Bulls' no-huddle, hurry-up offense. Graham said he hasn't watched film of Buffalo's new offensive linemen — there is nothing on tape — but he said he has seen enough of his defensive line to feel good about the matchup.
"Obviously, if they are playing as freshmen, they must be pretty talented," he said. "But I like our guys up against most anybody."Additional Information:
By the numbers
Buffalo brings a young starting offensive line into Saturday's game against Pitt at Heinz Field:
2 • True freshmen
1 • Redshirt freshman
1 • Junior
1 • Senior