Pitt rolls to 47-17 victory over Temple
Eyes straight ahead, Pitt center Ryan Turnley focused on the Temple defender. For the moment, nothing else mattered.
Yet he sensed something good was happening around him. Even though he couldn't see it, he had an unmistakable feeling.
It could only be Ray Graham.
“You hear the oohs and aahs of the crowd, and you figured Ray probably made somebody miss,” Turnley said.
Graham, Pitt's senior running back, put together a highlight reel Saturday in Pitt's 47-17 victory against Temple before an announced crowd of 42,425 at Heinz Field.
He scored three touchdowns, rushed 19 times for 109 yards and caught four passes for 71 more. Graham scored twice on the ground and once on a clutch 4-yard pass from quarterback Tino Sunseri with one second left in the first half.
But the play to which Turnley referred was a 35-yard run to the 2-yard line in the fourth quarter when sensible people might imagine that Graham's surgically repaired right knee was wearing down. Instead, he looked stronger and more elusive than ever on his penultimate run of the game, sprinting and spinning like he did last year before the injury.
“A wide hole opened up,” Graham said, eager to describe the play to anyone who asked. “Two dudes were coming down, and I just put a move on them and tried to score.”
Because he missed it the first time, Turnley said he's eager to see it on film.
“It will probably look great on film, as a lot of his runs do,” he said. “He makes plays that you just say, ‘Wow,' out loud on the field.”
Pitt coach Paul Chryst said Graham proved that the injury is behind him.
“I thought today he cut it loose a little bit, and to me that is one of the signs a guy is trusting it,” he said. “I liked when he was calling for the ball.”
Graham and Sunseri led Pitt (4-4, 1-3) to its first victory in the Big East but its fourth overall in the past six games. Temple (3-4, 2-2) is not the most formidable opponent, but the Owls were competitive in losses to Penn State and No. 15 Rutgers.
That wasn't the case against Pitt.
The Panthers asserted their dominance early, building a 31-7 halftime lead. The game slowed down in the third quarter, however, when Temple outscored Pitt, 10-3. Chryst noticed, and that will be point of emphasis this week while the team prepares for Notre Dame next week.
“I don't think in the third quarter we tackled particularly well,” Chryst said. “Defensively, I think we gave them some things.”
He also was unhappy with a series of penalties (11 for 105 yards).
Instead of coasting to victory, Pitt scored twice in the final quarter with touchdowns by Graham — on the first play after his long run — and a 58-yard run-and-catch from receiver Devin Street.
The result was a Pitt record for points against an FBS opponent at Heinz Field. It also was the most against a major college team in a home game since the Panthers beat Temple, 55-24, in 1999 at Pitt Stadium.
“It's coming together, but I don't think it's there yet,” Street said. “There are things we have to build upon.”
For one game, however, Pitt displayed a productive, two-tiered offense, with 321 yards in the air and 207 on the ground.
Sunseri completed 20 of 28 passes for three touchdowns. It was his third 300-yard effort of the season and his most against an FBS school. More importantly, it stretched his streak of not throwing an interception to five games.
“Tino, credit to him,” Street said. “He is really growing.”
The situation will change dramatically the minute players and coaches show up at their practice facility Sunday to get ready for the trip to South Bend, Ind.
“It's going to be a huge week of preparation going into Notre Dame,” Street said. “I think we will come out like we did against Virginia Tech (in an upset victory last month), and we will get after Notre Dame.”
Chryst will make sure his players turn the page.
“It feels good,” Chryst said. “Enjoy today, move forward tomorrow.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.