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Pitt football notebook: Run game remains bright spot

| Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
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SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 03: Zeke Motta #17 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish dives to knock Ray Graham #1 of the Pittsburgh Panthers out of bounds at Notre Dame Stadium on November 3, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Pitt is going in the wrong direction. The Panthers (4-5) are losing at a pace that would lead to back-to-back sub-.500 seasons for the first time since 1998-99.

But Ray Graham and the running game are improving every week.

“We can run against anybody,” Graham said after he recorded a season-high 172 yards Saturday against Notre Dame and scored a touchdown for the third consecutive game.

“I think our run game is very good when we are on our Ps and Qs and minus the MAs (missed assignments).”

Before Pitt's 29-26 triple overtime loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, the Irish run defense was ninth in the nation, allowing an average of 95.2 yards.

Graham nearly doubled that number by himself. In fact, he had 103 yards on two carries — 55 on the first try of the game and 48 in the third quarter. The runs appeared to set a tone, coming on the first play of a series, but Pitt managed only a field goal both times.

What knee injury?

What Graham's effort proved is that his knee injury from a year ago is no longer a factor. He carried 24 times, tying a season high he set twice previously. Freshman Rushel Shell had only one carry for 2 yards.

“I felt like I was improving three weeks ago,” Graham said.

Graham has rushed for 355 yards in the past three games to move into fourth place on Pitt's all-time rushing list with 3,023. He needs 64 yards to pass Craig Heyward for third.

Odd choice?

Graham said he was surprised when Pitt started throwing from its 20-yard line while protecting an eight-point lead with four minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we were going to run the ball,” he said. “(But) we have great offensive coordinator (Joe Rudolph). He made the call. We stuck with it.”

In four of the five carries immediately preceding that series, Graham totaled zero yards.

Still hurts

Redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts was a big reason the Pitt defense kept Notre Dame out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.

But he took no consolation in sharing the team lead in pass breakups with linebacker Todd Thomas (two).

“I'm not happy with individual performances,” he said. “The team didn't win. It's a team game. I'm not OK with that.”

Notable

Senior middle linebacker Joe Trebitz led the team in tackles (13) in his first career start. … Pitt converted only 1 of 14 third downs, while Notre Dame turned 10 of 20 into first downs. … Wide receiver Devin Street was held to three receptions for 35 yards, his lowest output in both categories this season. … Pitt officials refused to allow Graham and Pitts to answer questions about allegations of simple assault and conspiracy against them.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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