McCoy's performance adds to his hype

Kevin Gorman
| Monday, Nov. 3, 2008

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Charlie Weis was discussing the difficulty of containing LeSean McCoy when the Notre Dame coach stopped in mid-sentence the way the Pitt tailback does on a dime.

"That was him, wasn't it, the cutback screen in overtime?" Weis said. "Cut it on the right, went all the way to the left."

McCoy was magical in a marathon that lasted four hours and four overtimes, rushing for a game-high 169 yards and, most impressively, gaining 16 key yards on a pivotal pass play in Pitt's 36-33 victory over the Fighting Irish Saturday.

It marked McCoy's fifth consecutive game with 140 or more yards this season. The sophomore sensation became only the third Pitt rusher - and first since Curvin Richards in 1988-89 - to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in successive seasons. Tony Dorsett had four consecutive from 1973-76.

"Great players do a lot of things that you don't coach," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "That's LeSean."

The performance before a national television audience might have helped McCoy enter another race. If he can continue at this torrid pace, McCoy should be a lock for All-American honors, should become the frontrunner for the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation's top running back, and could emerge as a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

Pitt is already in the process of making a national push for McCoy to gain attention. It put up a highlight video on prior to the Notre Dame game. Pitt spokesman E.J. Borghetti called the video a "greatest hits package."

Borghetti said the process for hyping McCoy and other awards candidates began after Pitt's 13-9 victory at West Virginia last year in the 100th Backyard Brawl.

"We knew we had the foundation of a strong team coming back and had scored a monumental upset that the country saw," Borghetti said. "We thought it was a natural to get LeSean and Tony (Dorsett) together because LeSean had broken some of Tony's records, and it's very important to bring your past together with your present.

"When it comes to individual honors and awards like the Heisman, the best thing is to make your candidate available to the media on a frequent basis. If he keeps on this pace, we'll have even more opportunities."

The 5-foot-11, 210-pound McCoy has the statistics to back up the hype. He ranks second nationally in scoring, at 11.3 points a game, and sixth in rushing (125.5 yards). His numbers compare favorably over the past five games to the nation's top five rushers and are exceeded only by Louisiana-Lafayette's Tyrell Fenroy, who plays in the mid-major Sun Belt Conference.

McCoy also ranks first among the NCAA's active career leaders in rushing yards per game (116.6) and carries per game (23.4) - signaling his combination of productivity and durability - and his 29 rushing touchdowns and 528 carries also rank in the top 20. McCoy already ranks eighth in Pitt history, with 2,332 career rushing yards, and needs 107 to pass Kevan Barlow.

"He's got a lot of ability," Weis said. "He can run inside and out."

What separates McCoy from the nation's top five backs is his ability to make plays out of the pass game. He has the most receiving yards (127) and yards per catch (11.5), and his 11 receptions trail only Javon Ringer's 14. McCoy had two receptions for 23 yards against the Irish - giving him 192 all-purpose yards - and the one to which Weis referred was McCoy's most spectacular run of the game.

It came in the third overtime, after right tackle Joe Thomas was flagged for a false-start penalty to give the Panthers a second-and-14 at the 29. Pat Bostick threw a screen pass in the right flat to McCoy, who reversed field and turned the left corner as tight end Nate Byham leveled a defender with a block. The play accounted for 16 yards and led to Conor Lee's 26-yard field goal.

"We were going to try to be as limited as we possibly could throwing the ball," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Up here on the road with the noise and everything, let LeSean win it."

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