Shell starts, as injured Graham sits
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Pitt's appearance in the Compass Bowl on Saturday at Legion Field could have been a showcase for senior running back Ray Graham and his NFL aspirations.
But Graham was unable to practice all week or play in the 38-17 loss to Ole Miss after injuring a hamstring last month in Pittsburgh while preparing for the game. Graham, who was unavailable for comment after the game, finished the season with 1,042 yards rushing.
The injury allowed freshman Rushel Shell to make his first start. He said he got the word Saturday morning.
“It was a great way to wake up and know you can show the nation what's coming up next year,” he said.
Shell finished with 79 yards on 25 carries but admitted he has much to work to do in the offseason.
“I'd say I'm all right, decent,” he said when asked to assess his first season. “You can never be perfect, so this offseason I have to focus on a lot of things.”
Shell said the next several months will be important as Pitt prepares for the ACC.
“It is all determined in the offseason,” he said. “How hard we work and how bad we want it.”
Shell said knowing the starting job will be his from the outset of spring drills will motivate him.
“I want to be one of the best,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who came out of Pitt who are superior, and I just want to be in that category.”
Pitt played without two other key players who suffered injuries this week.
Middle linebacker Shane Gordon (neck) and backup tight end Drew Carswell (foot), who had become a favorite target of quarterback Tino Sunseri's late in the season, did not play. Also, senior tight end Hubie Graham, who began the season as a starter, was hurt early in the game, concluding an injury-plagued season.
That forced more juggling on both sides of the ball, with senior Joe Trebitz starting for Gordon and freshman J.P. Holtz playing the entire game at tight end.
Senior receiver Cam Saddler, who was suspended for the South Florida game Dec. 1, was with the team but did not dress.
Besides Shell, two other players made their first career start: Anthony Gonzalez at outside linebacker and tackle Zenel Demhasaj.
Wallace named MVP
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace was named the game's MVP after completing 22 of 32 passes for 151 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Middle linebacker Mike Marry led his team with seven tackles, four for a loss, and one sack. He also forced a fumble.
Pitt safety Jason Hendricks led all players with 17 tackles. He also intercepted a pass.