Pitt's defense continues to make big strides

Jerry DiPaola
| Monday, Oct. 3, 2011

Pitt's defense hasn't played a complete game this season, but it is getting closer.

In the 44-17 victory Thursday over South Florida, the Panthers held their opponent scoreless in the second half. That's the third game in a row Pitt allowed a field goal or less in two of the game's four quarters.

Also in the past three games, Pitt has forced a three-and-out or a turnover 12 times — nearly one-third of the 38 series.

Pitt is still far down the NCAA rankings in passing defense (107th, 289.6 yards per game) and total defense (95th, 414.4). But it's 44th in run defense (124.8) and 39th in scoring defense (21.6).

Notably, Pitt gave up 114 points in the first five games last season. Under coach Todd Graham's riskier scheme, the total is 108.

Senior defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said the defense started making strides in the USF game.

"I just felt for the first time all season we clicked as a defense," he said. "We were able to do exactly what we wanted. There was nobody doing their own thing. We just came together."

Busy back

Todd Graham can't get enough of running back Ray Graham.

NCAA statistics reveal that Graham is given the ball — either by handoff or throw - more often than any player in the nation.

Graham is second with 126 carries and leads all rushers with 734 yards. Robbie Rouse of Fresno State is first with 133 carries.

Graham leads all running backs in receptions (25), and he returned two kickoffs against USF after he "demanded" to do so, Todd Graham said.

That's 153 touches in five games (30.6 per game) for Pitt's best offensive player.

Technically, Graham doesn't lead the nation in rushing. He is third in average yards per game (146.8), which is how the NCAA ranks rushers.

Oregon's LaMichael James (153.2) and San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman (151.5) are first and second, respectively, after playing only four games.

Graham was named the Walter Camp Foundation's National Offensive Player of the Week for his 226-yard, two-touchdown performance. He also caught four passes for 42 yards.

Making the grade

Senior nose tackle Myles Caragein is one of 127 nominees for the National Football Foundation's scholar-athlete awards. Candidates must be a first-team senior or graduate student with a grade-point average of at least 3.2 and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.

Still unrecognized

Pitt's victory was enough to drop formerly No. 16 USF (4-1) out of the Associated Press rankings, but the Panthers (3-2 and unranked all season) received only one vote and failed to reach the Top 25.

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