Pitt reserve lineman makes impact in victory
Pitt guard Ryan Schlieper was exaggerating only slightly when he described a short sprint that felt like a marathon.
"The run from the sideline to the huddle," he said, "was probably the longest run I've ever had."
But it was all downhill from there.
When senior right guard Lucas Nix was sidelined on Pitt's second play from scrimmage Thursday night against No. 16 South Florida, Schlieper played the rest of the game, helping running back Ray Graham rush for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the 44-17 victory over the Bulls at Heinz Field.
"He was pretty nervous," coach Todd Graham said of Schlieper. "He played well and battled. I'm really proud of him."
An MRI performed Friday on Nix, who has started 30 of Pitt's past 31 games, revealed no "significant damage," according to coach Todd Graham. Nix's status for Saturday's game at Rutgers is uncertain.
"We are hopeful he will be back in action soon," Graham said.
Nix is the second Pitt lineman to be sidelined in the past two weeks. Senior left guard Chris Jacobson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final minutes of Pitt's 31-27 loss at Iowa on Sept. 17.
Jacobson's injury forced Cory King, the back-up right guard, to move to starting left guard, and Schlieper, a redshirt sophomore, moved up the depth chart one spot behind Nix at right guard.
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Schlieper estimated he played "about eight snaps" all of last year. Pressed into action, the former all-state lineman from North Allegheny said quarterback Tino Sunseri, right tackle Jordan Gibbs and Nix, who watched from the sideline, all gave him valuable advice.
"Every time I came off the field Lucas was in my ear," Schlieper said. " 'Keep going out there, give it everything you got. You are doing good.' It was a great feeling."
Schlieper is a punishing run blocker. His downfield pull block in the fourth quarter helped spring Graham's game-high 31-yard run and set up a 41-17 lead with 11:29 to play.
Said Ray Graham, "Schlieper did a great job. He came in and took that opportunity and never looked back with it."
If Nix can't play Saturday, Schlieper will make his first career start. Pitt's new-look offensive line will feature Gibbs (15 career starts), and four other linemen — tackle Juantez Hollins (five), center Ryan Turnley (five), King (two) and Schlieper (none) — with a combined 12 career starts.
"You don't have enough time to be nervous," Schlieper said.
Junior safety Jarred Holley had B.J. Daniels' leg, and he wasn't letting go.
The USF quarterback tried stiff-arming — punching — the prone Panther a couple of times. Holley would not let go.
"I was just holding on for dear life," Holley said, "wondering where my help was."
Holley completed the 6-yard loss. Later, he recorded his first career sack as part of a career-best 10-tackle game. Holley also forced a fumble, as Pitt stymied a USF offense that averaged 603 total yards its past three games.
"Jarred is one of the smartest football players I've ever worked with," coach Graham said. "He's been solid all year."
It seems like a long time since Kevin Harper missed two field goals against Buffalo, including a 32-yard chip shot.
The junior has converted seven in a row, highlighted by boots of 47 and 46 yards as part of a three field-goal night at Heinz Field on Thursday. He also averaged 59.3 yards on nine kickoffs; none of those drives started outside the USF 30.
PANTHERS: A LOOK AHEAD
Next opponent: Rutgers (2-1)
Time and place: 3:30 p.m, Saturday, New Brunswick, N.J.
Scouting report: Rutgers plays at Syracuse today in its Big East opener. Scarlet Knights receiver Mohamed Sanu set Big East and school record with 16 receptions, finishing with a career-high 176 yards and two touchdowns, in a 38-26 victory over Ohio. Sanu ranks among the top receivers in the nation in receptions and receiving yards. The Scarlet Knights rank second in the Big East in scoring defense at 16.7 points per game. The defense has forced 13 turnovers and ranks third in the nation at 4.0 sacks per game.