Even though Ray Graham eclipsed the season rushing total of Dion Lewis in less than one half of football Saturday, coach Dave Wannstedt is sticking with Lewis as the primary back.
Graham’s 279-yard rushing performance in a 44-17 win against Florida International goes down as the second-best single-game effort in Pitt football history behind Tony Dorsett’s 303-yard game at Notre Dame in 1975. Graham now averages 165 yards a game, 9.5 a carry and is on pace to rush for 1,815 this year but will start next Saturday on the sideline.
Wannstedt was emphatic in his post-game press conference when declaring Lewis the starter, leaving few questions surrounding the issue.
“Yes, he’s starting,” Wannstedt replied immediately after being asked whether Lewis’s starting job was in question after Graham’s performance. “Yes he is. That should give you something to talk about all week on the radio.”
Lewis sat out Saturday’s game with an upper body injury that was sustained during practice. He was a game-time decision and could have played if it was necessary, Wannstedt said.
Graham started in the absence of Lewis and ran well from the start behind a re-structured offensive line. Lucas Nix moved in to the right guard position and Jordan Gibbs took over at right tackle.
Graham found most of his success running behind the left side of the line.
“(The offensive line) was good,” Graham said. “They just came out ready to play like always. We came out there with fire and we (were) just trying to get back out there and do what we do.”
What Pitt did was put up 300 total rushing yards and establish a consistent running game for this first time this season. Graham’s ability to consistently pick up big chunks of yardage made things easier on the entire offense.
Wannstedt praised Graham’s work.
“Ray Graham, the effort (was) about as good as I’ve seen by an individual,” Wannstedt said. “That was great for him, which we knew anyway. I’m not gonna stand here and say, ‘well now we’ve got two good tailbacks.’ I mean we knew we had two good tailbacks.
“Dion was banged up all week in practice. He was ready to play, but he was held out intentionally. We’ll be fortunate to be able to use ‘em both next week against Notre Dame.”
So both will play, but Lewis will start. When asked if he thinks he’s earned the starting role, Graham said the outcome is his only concern.
“Whatever coach wants out there, we’re out there,” Graham said. “Me or Dion (can) go out there and get it done. So whoever’s name is called, just make it happen when your name’s called.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog