Dave Wannstedt maintains that Pitt will employ both Dion Lewis and Ray Graham out of the backfield. Both players had to miss at least one game this season due to injury--Graham the opener at Utah, and Lewis the Miami game.
For the season, Lewis has rushed for 206 yards (3.4 average) on his 60 carries, with two rushing scores. He has 89 yards on his 11 receptions. Graham has rushed for 536 yards on his 60 carries (8.9 average) with five rushing touchdowns. Graham has 111 yards on his 11 catches.
While the production favors Graham, Lewis will remain the starter. Both will play, though it's a challenge for the coaches to determine a rhythm for how to play them, whether it's every other series, every other two series or on a quarter-by-quarter basis.
"Do you sit back, second-guess and say ‘do you want to give Ray more carries?'" Wannstedt said. "I think that we want to get them both more carries ideally. The way everything has evolved, I see us using them both. To sit here and say that we're going to play one guy most of the game, I don't see that happening."
On Saturday, Lewis came out with 13 carries for 63 yards against Notre Dame. Average-wise (4.8 yards a carry), it was his best outing of the season, aside from 75 yards in the opener at Utah. Even though Graham was coming off a 277-yard performance the week before, the coaching staff still wants Lewis involved in the game plan as much as possible.
"We've got two guys," running backs coach David Walker said. "Dion just hasn't had the big runs like Ray has had. When you look at the stats--when you have an 80-yard run and a 50-yard run--the stats are going to really jump. (Lewis) is playing well too. It's not like we got one guy that's not playing good, and one guy that is playing good. We got two guys that are playing solid, playing good, even though I know what the numbers look like. We just keep moving forward."
One of the main differences in terms of 2009 production from the running game (180.3 yards/game) to the 2010 production (157.8/game), is that Lewis was the go-to running back in 2009. He averaged exactly 25 carries a game because he came in the spring, and knew the offense right away last year. It took Graham a little longer to learn the position as it would any freshman at any position. In 2010, Graham has a better grasp of the offense, which is why he is one carry short of his 2009 carry total (61) after just four games.
"We wouldn't have been able to run our whole package with Ray in the game consistently last year," Walker said. "This year, we can. That's why the touches are being doubled. Last year, we as a staff had more confidence in Dion knowing everything, producing. Ray was not quite ready yet. Now, he's ready, and they both play now."
If Wannstedt is going to continue to use both backs, or at least try to let these two running backs make as many plays as possible, one of the more difficult things to do is get the running backs in a rhythm. It goes back to the dilemma of whether to alternate series, give each back two series a piece, or designing some other pattern.
Graham, even though he is halfway to 1,000 yards, said that that is the toughest thing in splitting reps.
"Definitely double digits (carries) to get us going," Graham said. "I think as the game goes on, get the flow of the game going, once you get the ball a couple times, you get the feel of the defense. It's different just watching. You're watching, but actually playing is different. Once you play, start playing and get your feet going, it's better."
Though the numbers favor Graham, because of the two running back philosophy, Pitt fans are still going to see both regardless of whether one is producing 100-yard games, or whether the other plays more physically. The coaching staff wants and feels a need for both running backs, and won't give up on either player.
"We got a real good situation," Walker said. "They're both getting their touches. They're both being productive, and we'll just keep moving forward. If you look at purely numbers, Ray has had a couple big runs that have inflated his yards per carry average. That's great. I'm glad he's had those runs. Lets not just bury Dion yet."