BUFFALO, N.Y. – Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst is optimistic enough to know there's still half a season left for the Panthers to show they're capable of becoming a winning football team.
Chryst is also realistic enough to understand how much better they all need to be for that to happen.
"It is the mid-point of the season, but I also think it is the time where they're getting tired of me standing up and saying we're doing some good things and we've got to put it together," he said. "You can't have the same story line all the time because that means you're really not getting better.
"The time is now."
Inconsistent at best, the Panthers (2-4) find themselves at a crossroad entering the second half of their final Big East Conference season before making the jump to the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.
Coming off two losses, Pitt gets a chance to right its ship and kick start a second-half run at Buffalo (1-5) on Saturday. They'll face a Bulls team that's been a near-perennial Mid-American Conference afterthought, and already on the verge of enduring their 15th losing season in 16 years.
Chryst and his players won't hear anything of the Bulls' struggles — Buffalo is coming off a 45-3 loss at Northern Illinois, and is 6-24 under coach Jeff Quinn.
"I think every week stands on its own," Chryst said. "We've got to just live in the moment."
The Panthers can't afford to look past anyone these days because they've got enough to correct themselves. Quarterback Tino Sunseri might be one of the nation's most efficient passers with a 163.49 rating this season, yet the Panthers offense lacks finish.
In a 14-13 loss at Syracuse two weeks ago, the Panthers came away empty despite two fourth-quarter drives inside the Orange 30. Last week, the Panthers went 0-for-3 in converting fourth-down chances and gave up five sacks in a 45-35 loss to No. 16 Louisville.
Their defense has suddenly sprung holes after allowing the Cardinals to score 24 points over an 11:02 span in building a 38-14 lead.
And Chryst is not without blame. The first-year head coach opened himself to second-guessing with his play-calling last weekend. Down by 10 in the fourth quarter, Chryst passed up a chance to attempt a field goal and instead watched as the Panthers failed in their attempt to convert a fourth-and-8 at the Louisville 22.
It's been a confounding year for the Panthers, who opened the season losing 31-17 to Youngstown State, an FCS program, and upset then-No. 13 Virginia Tech 35-17.
Pitt is attempting to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2007, and is in jeopardy of matching its worst start to a season since 2001.
"There's going to be people talking down, trying to always say something about us as a team," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "But we've just got to stick together and just go out there and play football."
The Panthers won't get any sympathy from the Bulls, who've endured more than their fair share of misfortunes and inconsistencies.
They provided Georgia a first-half scare before losing 45-23, and held their own in a 24-17 loss at Connecticut. And one of their best games came against MAC rival Ohio two weeks ago, in which the Bulls managed 501 yards offense but lost 38-31.
And now the wheels have appeared to unravel after Buffalo was blown out at Northern Illinois.
"Certainly, this one was embarrassing. We know that," Quinn said. "Our players have taken full responsibility as have our coaches. And I'm excited and determined to get this team to where it belongs. And our players feel that way, too."
The Bulls have shown glimpses of being competitive and have yet to put together a complete game this season, aside from for a 56-34 win over Morgan State.
The schedule hasn't helped: Buffalo is back home for the first time in a month after playing three straight road games. Injuries have been a problem, too. The Bulls have been without their top offensive threat, running back Branden Oliver, who is now listed week to week after missing three games with a leg injury.
The Bulls' confidence has not wavered.
Tight end Alex Dennison described the team as being more focused after last week's loss.
"I think this game helped us come together," he said.
Dennison also notes that the Bulls were competitive in a 35-16 loss at Pittsburgh last year. Buffalo trailed 21-16 before allowing two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
"We're taking a look at last year, knowing that we didn't play our best game and we still hung in there," said Dennison, who is from the Pittsburgh area. "You kind of get that feeling that you know you can win.