Run, Shady, Run

Some believe "The Powers That Be'' at Notre Dame, and they know who they are, used to cut the grass a little higher when Tony Dorsett and Pitt came to town in the 1970s and the situation could be similar today.

Pittsburgh (5-2) faces Notre Dame (5-2) at 2:30 p.m. today in South Bend, Ind., and another slick running back will take center stage for the Panthers. But sophomore LeSean McCoy doesn't believe in the aforementioned urban legend.

"I wouldn't cut the grass for Mr. Dorsett, either, but I think they'll cut it for me,'' McCoy said in a most humble tone. "I'm not that good.''

If McCoy keeps saying it, somebody might believe it, unless they've been watching Pitt games recently. McCoy has been dazzling in recent games after a slow start. He has four straight contests with 140-plus yards rushing and 14 touchdowns (nine the past three games and 28 in two seasons) after reaching the end zone four times last week.

And he's well aware of the importance of this game.

"Playing Notre Dame out there, I've heard so much about it,'' McCoy said. "Touchdown Jesus, the stadium and he atmosphere, it's a big game against a big-time opponent. It's going to be an exciting game. We're really looking forward to it, and I'm looking forward to having a good game.

"I think at the beginning of the year, I wanted to turn every run into a 60-yard touchdown. Now, I'm just taking what they give me, but I have to give credit to the big boys up front. They're doing a great job blocking, and I'm getting some big holes to run through. That's the reason I've been so successful.''

So, the key to victory this week for Pitt appears to be simple. Run McCoy, and then run him a little bit more. Mix in a few passes here and there to keep the Fighting Irish honest, but eliminate the bubble screens and sideways passes. They have little to no effect, other than to leave second- or third-and-long plays to follow them. Pound McCoy. He can handle it.

"I seem to get better with the more carries I get, but we'll see,'' McCoy said. "We have a lot of weapons on offense, a lot of weapons, and we need to use them all. Jonathan Baldwin, I probably could throw it up for him, and he'd catch it. So, we need to get guys like him, Nate Byham, they all need the ball.''

The man known as Shady needs it more for Pitt to win. Let's be real here. If Pitt would have pounded McCoy against Rutgers more often -- remember the third-and-short play when Pat Bostick was intercepted? -- the Scarlet Knights offense would not have gotten on the field as much to burn the Panthers secondary.

McCoy should be used the same way against pass-happy Notre Dame. Also, the Irish aren't that adept at playing run defense. Their tackling is suspect, probably better than it was when Michigan State's Javon Ringer ran 39 times for 201 yards in a Spartans victory. McCoy is bigger and better than Ringer, and he can handle it. Give him 40-plus carries if necessary.

Especially if Bostick gets the start. Sure, he has some experience now and is better than he was last season, but he's no Dan Marino. Neither is Bill Stull, for that matter, but that's not the point. Neither Pitt option as a starting quarterback should be throwing the ball all over Notre Dame Stadium. Not when McCoy is the better option.

"Shady's running well right now, hitting the holes and seeing things really well,'' Pitt senior center C.J. Davis said. "We're doing a pretty good job blocking for him, but we only need to give him a crack. He gets there so quick. The longer we can hold our blocks, the better our running game will be.''

And the better the offense will be overall if McCoy's running the ball. With the way he changes direction and makes defenders miss, it's hard not to envision the Fighting Irish chasing him all over Notre Dame Stadium. Not catching him, but just chasing him more often than not.

It's Pitt's best chance to win. It's not the Panthers' only option on offense, to be sure, but it's their best.

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