Football: Pitt defeats FIU 44-17

By Alex Oltmanns

With starting running back Dion Lewis sitting out with an upper body injury, backup Ray Graham… With starting running back Dion Lewis sitting out with an upper body injury, backup Ray Graham got his first career start in Pitt’s (2-2) 44-17 win over Florida International University Saturday afternoon.

And Graham took full advantage of his opportunity. He had the second best rushing performance of any Panther running back ever.

The sophomore running back hit career highs in carries (29), rushing yards (277) and touchdowns (3). Only NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett has had more rushing yards in a Panther uniform, when he had 303 against Notre Dame in 1975.

“The running game with Ray Graham was as good of an effort as I have ever seen by an individual,” head coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game.

Graham helped open up the scoring early in the second quarter as Dan Hutchins hit a 30-yard field goal to make it 3-0.

But, FIU (0-4) took the ball right back down the field, and Darriet Perry put the exclamation point on the efficient drive with a one-yard touchdown run with 8:35 left in the half.

But Graham responded, finding a running lane and scampering for a 34-yard touchdown after Pitt started the drive at midfield.

The game was actually much closer than the final score indicated, as Pitt was up only 13-10 at halftime, and 16-10 at the end of the third quarter.

But that was when Graham and the rest of the Pitt offense got in gear, scoring four touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Quarterback Tino Sunseri – who finished the game 15 for 23 with 169 yards and one touchdown – hit fullback Henry Hynoski for a nine-yard score with 13:39 to play, to push the lead to 23-10.

“Whenever you can run the ball like that, it takes pressure off the whole offense,” Sunseri said. “The running game gets an offense going whenever you can run the ball efficiently and everything just builds off it.”

After another Perry touchdown run cut the lead to 23-17, Graham took the game into his own hands.

On the ensuing drive he broke free for a 79-yard touchdown that seemed to break FIU’s back, and then scored again on a 19-yard run to put the game out of reach with 4:22 left on the clock.

Coming into the game, the offensive line was in question, prompting the coaches to move Lucas Nix to right tackle to replace Greg Gaskins and to insert Jordan Gibbs into the starting lineup to take Nix’s place.

If there were any questions about their play, they quieted the doubters at least for a week.

“They came ready today,” Graham said. “The holes (to run) were so big.”

Pitt stepped up defensively as well, collecting two sacks on FIU quarterback Wesley Carroll who had only been sacked once through three games.

“We knew going into the game that this quarterback is very elusive,” linebacker Max Gruder said. “These plays are just such quick tempo so it’s very hard to get pressure, so to get two sacks is pretty good against this type of offense.”

The Panthers will look to build off this momentum when they travel to Notre Dame to take on the Fighting Irish next Saturday.