|Pitt RB Ray Graham rushed for 113 yards and a TD in the Panthers' 27-6 win over Rutgers on Saturday. (US Presswire)|
When Pittsburgh has been in sync this season, the Panthers have demonstrated the potential to put a scare into nearly any team in the nation.
In a September victory over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech, Pitt raced out to a 21-0 lead and forced four turnovers on the way to a 35-17 decision. In early November in South Bend, the Panthers moved the ball on the ground at will against Notre Dame's typically impenetrable run defense. If K Kevin Harper connected on a 33-yard field goal in double overtime, the Panthers would have upset the current No. 1 team in the BCS Standings.
On Saturday, Paul Chryst's team delivered what was arguably its most impressive effort of the season. Pitt held Rutgers to 50 total yards in the opening half and received a solid performance from RB Ray Graham en route to a 27-6 win over No. 18 Rutgers. With the victory, Pitt (5-6, 2-4 Big East) remained bowl eligible heading into next week's regular-season finale at South Florida.
In frigid, snowy conditions at Heinz Field, the Scarlet Knights' offense could never gain traction. Rutgers (9-2, 5-1 Big East) went 0 for 8 on third-down conversions and produced six three-and-outs in a paltry offensive display over the first 30 minutes. Beset by poor blocking and poor field position, the Scarlet Knights went to the locker room down 21-0.
After a slow start on offense, as well, Pitt got on board on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Tino Sunseri to WR Mike Shanahan early in the second quarter. Sunseri floated a perfect pass to a wide-open Shanahan in the left corner of the end zone. The senior wide receiver gained separation when Rutgers DB Brandon Jones bit on a slant-and-go from Shanahan.
Late in the second quarter, Pitt opened a drive at the Rutgers 28-yard line after a 29-yard punt by Rutgers P Justin Doerner and a personal foul on LB Khaseem Greene. Two plays later, Graham, Greene's half-brother, scored on a 1-yard dive to increase the lead to 14-0. Following another Rutgers punt, the Panthers padded the lead to 21-0 on a touchdown catch by WR Ed Tinker in the right corner of the end zone with seven seconds left in the half.
On a frozen field in Pittsburgh, Scarlet Knights QB Gary Nova and Greene suffered apparent head injuries after a pair of collisions in the opening half. Graham was one of a handful of players to come to Greene's side as he stuttered to the ground late in the second quarter following a hit on Pitt WR Cameron Saddler. Nova and Greene returned to the game.
Graham finished with 23 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he passed former Pitt RB Craig Heyward for third all-time in career rushing yards by a Panthers running back. Graham needs 45 yards next week against the Bulls to reach 1,000 in a season for the first time in his career.
Rutgers cut the Panthers' lead to 24-6 late in the third quarter on an 11-yard touchdown by Brandon Coleman, but never threatened in the final 15 minutes. The Scarlet Knights can still win the Big East outright with a win over Louisville on Thursday night. Despite the loss, Rutgers clinched its first-ever share of the Big East title with the Cardinals' loss to Connecticut on Saturday.
(For more on the game, check out CBSSports.com's Eye on College Football blog)
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