Pitt running back Ray Graham gave the nation a glance into what he can do and left us convinced that he is the next in a long line of great Panther running backs.
Graham took the struggling Panthers, who had lost two straight tough decisions, and carried them to victory over South Florida, 44-17, in the Big East opener on a nationally televised Thursday night game. He rushed for 226 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns, caught four passes for 42 yards and returned two kickoffs for 35 yards.
That's 305 total yards.
"Ray has been phenomenal and he has been better than he has ever played," coach Todd Graham said. "It was probably his best performance, tremendous extra efforts. He is a complete back and he continues to be a student, learning and studying, and he corrected a lot of things we wanted him to correct.
"This kid's competitiveness is off the chart. He runs all over the field, then he demanded he return the kickoff, and I just love how he has been competing."
The offense from him obviously is needed but it serves another purpose and that is to make Tino Sunseri, the quarterback, a better player. Sunseri had been under fire after the offense had a tough time in a loss to Notre Dame, but he bounced back with his best game against a nationally-ranked opponent.
Sunseri completed 22 of 33 passes for 216 and a touchdown and took advantage of a defense that had to key on Graham to get some sizeable gains on option plays, including a touchdown run.
All of this, along with a solid defensive performance against a team that had averaged 44 points a game coming in, and you had a warning signal to the Big East that the Panthers are buying into what new coach Graham is selling are a bona fide contender for the title even though they are currently a lame duck on their way to the ACC.
--Pittsburgh now has beaten South Florida four consecutive times.
--WR Cameron Saddler had a career-night with 68 yards receiving on six catches.
--DE Brandon Lindsey recorded a sack in the fourth quarter. He has now had at least one sack in 11 of his past 17 contests.
--Junior S Jarred Holley posted his first career sack late in the third quarter, an 11-yard loss that led to a South Florida punt.
KEEP AN EYE ON: PK Kevin Harper -- Heinz Field is not known to be a friendly place for kickers, but Harper is looking like he can tame the elements. With three field goals in three tries against South Florida, he has seven in a row. Among his three against USF was a 47-yarder, a career long and Pitt's the longest since Conor Lee hit a crucial 48-yarder in Pitt's colossal 13-9 upset of West Virginia in 2007.
LOOKING GOOD: QB Tino Sunseri -- Yes, the star of the South Florida game was RB Ray Graham, who rushed for 226 yards, but you can't overlook the bounce back performance by Sunseri, whose job was in jeopardy after two straight losses. Sunseri completed 22 of 33 passes for 216 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, but equally as important was his ability to run on the option, gaining 35 yards on 12 carries with a long of 17 and touchdown. "I thought Tino played very well. I thought he executed the system well and he did a great job and was tough," coach Todd Graham said. "He tucked the ball down. He had great pocket presence. He was very decisive with the football. He got the ball out and was a commander. I thought he took charge of the team tonight."
STILL NEEDS WORK: It is a rare sight whenever WR Mike Shanahan drops a pass, let alone two on consecutive plays, yet that is just what happened in the first quarter against South Florida. He first dropped a certain 29-yard TD toss and then, on the next play with it third-and-11, he dropped a first down pass. He will be due to drop another one on Oct 18, 2012.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Once he (gets) in space, he makes you miss. He's quick. He's quicker than he is fast and he's very elusive. He's got sideways lateral movement. He's got great vision. If he can get on the perimeter, he's going to hurt you." -- USF Coach Skip Holtz on Pitt RB Ray Graham after Graham rushed for 226 yards in the Panthers' 44-17 victory.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--Pitt suffered another key injury in the offensive line as guard Lucas Nix went down on the first series with an apparent knee injury. An MRI was scheduled for the knee. Ryan Schlieper, a 305-pound sophomore, replaced him. The Panthers already had lost guard Chris Jacobson to a season-ending knee injury.
--Pitt tailback Zach Brown injured his arm early in the game and missed a few series, but returned.