Pitt's Dynamic Duo Run Wild

Pitt's offensive line has been a focal point for criticism this season for its inconsistent play, but the unit came through with its best performance this season in a 24-17 win against Cincinnati Saturday afternoon at Heinz Field.

The Panthers (3-4, 1-1 in the Big East) ran for 260 yards and had two running backs, LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling, surpass the 100-yard plateau. McCoy ran for 137 on 25 carries, while Stephens-Howling added 100 and one touchdown on 13 carries. It was the first time Pitt had two players run for more than 100 yards since Curvin Richards (202) and Darnell Dickerson (108) turned the trick against Rutgers in 1988.

"We knew we had a good challenge ahead of us, but we wanted to run the ball,'' fifth-year senior right tackle Mike McGlynn said. "We came out and played well. We had two backs go over 100 yards, and our goal is to get 200 yards rushing (as a team) and one guy over 100, so we surpassed our goals.

"I think our conditioning really came out in the fourth quarter, and ... I think we really wore them out in the fourth quarter. Joe Thomas went out with an injury, but John Bachman came in and played really well. It's all about communication, and when he stepped in we didn't miss a beat.''

McCoy now has four 100-yard games this season and 805 yards rushing overall, and he is on pace to become Pitt's first running back to surpass 1,000 yards since Kevan Barlow ran for 1,167 in 2000. The last freshman to reach 1,000 yards rushing was Richards in 1988.

"We wanted to do that all season, switching off to keep both guys fresh and to wear down the other team's defense,'' McCoy said. "I think we need to do this more often the rest of the season, because LaRod's a good talent.

"And he needs to get his carries, too. LaRod, he's a great guy, and he didn't let anything bother him this season. Even though he was down for a few weeks, he showed today the type of player he is and the contribution he still can make. I'm really proud of the way he ran the ball today.''

McCoy has said all along that Stephens-Howling has acted like a big brother to him, taking him under his wing and helping him adapt to college, and that approach hasn't changed since McCoy surpassed his mentor to be Pitt's starting tailback and featured player.

Stephens-Howling wanted to make it clear that the two are still tight and will remain that way no matter how the remaining games play out. The two were roommates during training camp and also stay together for road games.

"It's been rough for me,'' Stephens-Howling said, "but we still have a great relationship and know that either one can come in and contribute to this offense. ... Three words that the coaches tell me is 'body of truth,' and that's knowing yourself and knowing what you really have.

"I've been reading some things and had some problems with my confidence, but when I really looked at it I know that I'm a good running back and I can contribute in a lot of ways on this team. Now, we've got two backs who can come in and do the same things for this offense, and I think we really wore them down at the end. That was the difference in the game.''

Stephens-Howling was more effective in the second half, and he was spectacular during Pitt's game-winning touchdown drive. After a pass to T.J. Porter for 15 yards got the Panthers in scoring range, they gave the ball to the Johnstown Jet five straight plays. He had runs for nine, five, 13 and one to get to the 7, and then capped the drive with a scoring burst from there.

"It felt real good because they had confidence enough in me to keep me in the game that late, and I knew I had to get in a zone and keep working hard,'' Stephens-Howling said. "And it worked out with a successful drive that really helped the team.''

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