Pitt

Panther Hollow: Players Buying Into Balanced Backfield

By Matt Popchock
Ray Graham

(Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Most of us are taught by our parents at a young age to share. In any event, it’s a lesson sophomore Isaac Bennett obviously took to heart entering the 2012 season.

Pitt has rotated three running backs through its first two games, but the easygoing Bennett, who has 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries in that span, is fine with standing in that spotlight alongside senior Ray Graham and true freshman Rushel Shell.

“We like to see everybody doing well. When they’re in, I’m cheering them on, and vice versa,” said Bennett Wednesday as the Panthers (0-2) prepare to face No. 13 Virginia Tech (1-0, 2-0) at Heinz Field Saturday. “We like to see everybody do their thing.”

Bennett doesn’t feel that spotlight has intensified, even as senior quarterback Tino Sunseri and the passing game struggle to help Pitt’s offense overcome missed opportunities and find greater success.

“We’re involved in the passing game too. Whenever they call a passing play, we’ve got to get out and [give] protection,” he added. “It’s about doing the little things…making the right reads.”

Given the different schemes in the playbook of new head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, Bennett admits pass protection is a concept he and his mates need to grasp better:

Neither pass protection nor anything else appears to be a physical challenge for Graham, who looked no worse for the off-season wear while racking up 103 yards on 19 carries despite a 34-10 Big East-opening loss at Cincinnati last Thursday.

Through two games he has 175 yards on 33 attempts, and his rehabilitated right knee has been able to withstand normal game contact. But what has to change is the fact that Pitt’s offense hasn’t been able to withstand the opposing defense.

“We’re just inches away from making big plays happen,” said Graham. “We have to make those if we’re going to win big games.”

You might say Saturday’s contest does indeed qualify as a big one. It’s a chance for Chryst to crack that goose egg, a chance for the underclassmen to preview a future conference rival, and a chance for a signature win against an old conference rival whom Pitt upset several times in the heyday of the Big East.

“I have to trust myself,” Graham said, stressing a need to make better decisions with the ball. “That’s what I need to get to: not thinking about [plays], and just doing it.”

He also had some things to say about Virginia Tech’s defense, among other issues leading up to Saturday’s game:

Kickoff between the Panthers and Hokies is set for 12:00 Saturday, with Panther Gameday beginning at 9:00 A.M., on your flagship home for Pitt football, SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan.

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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