The Panthers are hopeful that won't happen for at least another year, but the way LeSean McCoy is running lately his stock could hardly be much higher. No NCAA Division I-A running back has more yardage the past five games, as McCoy has surpassed 140 yards in each, and Pitt is ranked 25th by the Associated Press.
Pittsburgh is 6-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big East, going into its Conference game against Louisville (5-3, 1-2) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.
"LeSean is very talented, and on top of that he's got a great work ethic,'' Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "He works hard at what he does, and he wants this team to win. And that drives him. I don't doubt that he could be successful any place that he would go, but I think he's developed a real love for this program and the people he works with every day.
"He wants to be successful, and he wants the team to be successful. And it shows when he goes out and practices hard every day. Typically, when you've got that kind of talent to go with that work ethic, good things are going to happen for you. And we're seeing some of that now.''
McCoy's most recent honor was being named among the 15 semifinalists for the Maxwell Award that is given to the Collegiate Player of the Year. The winner will be announced December 11 during ESPN's telecast of the "Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show'' in Orlando, Fla. The formal presentation will be made at the Maxwell Football Club's awards dinner March 6, 2009 in Atlantic City, N.J.
McCoy is the nation's second-leading scorer (tied at 11.25 points per game) and sixth-leading rusher (125.50 yards per game). In the past five games, McCoy has surpassed 140 yards each time and is the nation's leading rusher during that stretch with 762 yards and 10 touchdowns on 132 carries. McCoy is the nation's active career leader in rushing yards per game (116.6 in 20 games). He is second nationally among active players in points per game (9.0 per game, 30 TDs).
McCoy recently achieved his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. In eight games this year, he has tallied 1,004 yards on 193 attempts (5.2 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns. Last year, he rushed for a Big East-freshman record 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"I wouldn't say that I'm hitting my stride now, but I've been a lot more patient and confident in the schemes that we're running,'' McCoy said. "And our O-line is really playing well right now. They're opening some big holes for me, and they're making my job a lot easier.
"Maybe you could say that I'm finding my groove, and our entire running game is working pretty well right now. When you have a guy like (freshman wideout) Jonathan Baldwin stretching the field, that makes it easier, too. So, we're looking forward to continuing that this week.''
McCoy also expected to get the ball out of the Wildcat formation where he takes a direct snap from center and reads the defense before hitting the hole.
"We definitely got that tape and saw what Syracuse did to Louisville last week,'' McCoy said. "We can take a lot from that. They're an athletic group on defense, but they're young (with) some first-year starters with a new defensive coordinator. The Wildcat, I just think we give the defense another thing to look at and more to prepare for. And it maybe can catch them off-guard.
"We can go from the I-formation, running the ball, and then switch to the Wildcat. ... The defense has to react to what the offense does. So, when we keep switching up on offense, that gives them more to think about. For me, it's great. It's easier for me to get the ball on a direct snap rather than take it in a handoff from the quarterback, so we'll probably run that this week.''
Louisville certainly is susceptible to the run, getting shredded by Syracuse in a loss to the Orange last week, and McCoy rung up 120 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries last season against the Cardinals. But McCoy will always remember that late in the game, when Pitt was poised to score the game-winning touchdown, he fumbled to dash those hopes.
So, even though he has tried not to look ahead, McCoy has waited more than a year for a rematch against Louisville.
"It's pretty big,'' McCoy said. "I don't want to make it like a revenge thing, but it kind of is, though. It's always been in the back of my head that the reason that we lost that game was because of me. So, I think that's probably going to make me play with a bigger chip on my shoulder this week. And it'll probably drive me more against Louisville.''
The Panthers are hopeful that McCoy will drive them to a bowl game for the first time since Wannstedt returned to his alma mater. Some Pitt players, like four-year starter C.J. Davis, a senior center, has never been to a bowl game.
"Definitely, for a guy like C.J., someone who works so hard, it's important to finally get to a bowl game,'' McCoy said. "So, if I'm able to help this team get to a bowl game and get a guy like C.J. to a bowl game for the first time, that would be excellent. That would be a great accomplishment.
"There's a lot of guys like that on this team, hard-working guys who haven't been rewarded like that. So, it would be great and mean a lot to me to get to a bowl game for my teammates. That's a goal we're striving for.''
And it's one that McCoy and the Panthers will achieve with a win this week.
For more info, go to www.LeSeanMcCoy25.com, a Pitt Web site that's wall-to-wall with McCoy highlights.
McCoy On Top Of Game
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