The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Dion Lewis has run his way into the No. 2 spot nationally in rushing with 918 total yards and nine touchdowns.
And after Lewis rambled for 180 yards and two touchdowns in Pitt's 24-17 win at Rutgers last Friday night, he was honored by the Big East Conference as the offensive player of the week.
"From his tape coming out of high school, I think he averaged 12.5 yards a carry,'' Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I think we watched four plays, and we we turned the tape off and offered him a scholarship. We had a need at running back, and you could really see his explosiveness.
"But what we didn't know until we talked to him was the type of person he was, the maturity he had. And that's what really ... the transition from high school to college is difficult for most kids, and he has handled it extremely well. We've played seven games, and he hasn't wavered from what he showed us in training camp and last spring. And that's really remarkable.''
Lewis averaged 5.8 yards on 31 carries against the Scarlet Knights, who were ranked No. 1 in the Big East and sixth nationally in rushing defense at 65.2 yards per game and 2.3 yards per attempt. Lewis also has 12 catches (6.8 yards per catch) this season and one score.
Lewis pounded the Rutgers defense between the tackles, for the most part, in the first half. However, his 58-yard scoring burst late in the third quarter gave Pittsburgh a 24-10 lead and ultimately provided the winning points. He also had a one-yard touchdown run to give him 10 total scores this season.
"I'm really not surprised at the success that I've had, because I've worked so hard,'' Lewis said. "But, really, I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do, because everybody expects our running back to get the yardage. So, that's what I do.
"On the 58-yard touchdown run, I was able to get outside, since our line sealed off the corner for me, and I was just fortunate to take it all the way back. As far as my carries, I wasn't tired at all. Every time they call my number, I'll take it. Even if it means getting 40 carries. I'll do whatever the coaches want.''
The Rutgers game marked the fourth 100-yard rushing effort of the season for Lewis. He ranks third nationally in rushing yards per game with a 131.14 average and is 25th in scoring, tied at 8.57 points per game.
With 60 total points, Lewis is well on pace to surpass Pitt's freshman scoring record of 90 set in 2007 by tailback LeSean McCoy, now with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.
Pitt, 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Big East, surged into the national polls this week,. The Panthers are ranked 19th in the USA Today coaches, 20th by The Associated Press writers and 20th in the initial Bowl Championship Series ratings.
Pitt plays host to Big East foe South Florida (5-1, 1-1) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field. It is an ESPN regional game and the Conference game of the week.
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