Football: Lewis named Big East player of the week

By Jay Huerbin

Rutgers’ strong rushing defense was no match for Pitt freshman running back Dion Lewis, who… Rutgers’ strong rushing defense was no match for Pitt freshman running back Dion Lewis, who was named Big East offensive player of the week Monday.

Before Friday night’s matchup, the Scarlet Knights ranked first in the conference and sixth nationally in rushing defense, having allowed only 65.2 yards per game and 2.3 yards per attempt.

But Lewis ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including a 58-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, as he led the No. 20 Panthers to a 24-17 victory in New Jersey.

Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt said Lewis’ work ethic is largely responsible for his strong numbers during his freshman campaign.

“The consistency that Dion has demonstrated has been unbelievable, on the field and off the field,” Wannstedt said. “He’s doing everything right. He’s such a great kid. Very few freshmen can make that transition and maintain it.”

Lewis’ third-quarter score, which gave the Panthers a 24-10 lead, provided the winning points.

He also had a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

The Rutgers game was Lewis’ fourth 100-yard rushing performance of the season.

His success so far this season is no surprise to Wannstedt, who said Lewis’ homecoming performance against the Scarlet Knights was a great response to the attention he’s received this year.

“When your name’s being thrown around maybe as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and you go back home to play as close to home as he’s going to get, and you show up and play like he did … there are some really special qualities about him as a person, in addition to his talent,” Wannstedt said.

For the year, Lewis has rushed for nine touchdowns and 918 yards. He has the second-highest rushing total in the country. He has also caught 12 passes for 82 yards and one touchdown.

Lewis is averaging 131.14 rushing yards and 8.57 points per game, which ranks him third and 25th in the nation, respectively.

Over seven games, Lewis has scored 60 total points and is on pace to break Pitt’s freshman scoring record (90) set by LeSean McCoy in 2007.

Along with his conference honors, Lewis was also named the national freshman of the week.

Lewis and the Panthers (6-1 overall, 3-0 Big East) sit atop the conference standings and will host South Florida (5-1, 1-1) on Saturday at Heinz Field.