What I liked most about Pitt running back Ray Graham’s latest effort had less to do with last night and more to do with how he responded to last night this morning.
Long after he had rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 42 more in a dominant 44-17 Pitt victory against South Florida, he said, “Big-time players step up in big-time games. You just come ready to play and you step up to the limelight.”
OK, so that begs the obvious question:
“Are you a big-time player?” I asked him.
For a moment, Graham looked slightly embarrassed, but like he did all night after he took a blow from the USF defense, he righted himself, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yes, I feel as if I am. Yes, sir.”
“I worked for it, so I feel as though I am.”
Graham put on one of the greatest shows ever seen at Heinz Field, leaping over tacklers, avoiding piles of humanity to gain extra yards and even making a slick one-hand catch.
He even received an encouraging tweet from basketball star LeBron James. Later, Graham said, “I’m going to go tweet at him and see if he tweets back at me.”
Graham is not in that stratosphere, but he looks like someone who can rule the NCAA.
He came into the game eighth in the nation in yards per game (127) and went back to campus this morning with more rushing yards (734) than anyone and an average of 146.8.
In terms of total yards, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore (611) has the best chance of catching Graham on Saturday, but he’ll need 124 yards against Auburn.
That looks to be a little tougher than what Graham was able to do against an overrated USF defense.
For one night, Pitt put it all together, with quarterback Tino Sunseri completing 22 of 33 passes for 216 yards. He also ran for 55 (not counting 20 yards lost in sacks) and a touchdown.
He played like he was enjoying himself, but probably not as much as when he sat down in front of the media after the game and confidently said, “I told you all we were close.”