Graham rushes for 277 yards in Pitt's win
Ray Graham started against Florida International University only because Dion Lewis was out with a sore shoulder.
"I learned (I was starting) the day of the game," Graham said. "Since Dion was hurt, we didn't know if he would be able to play. Just play it safe, and put me out there."
By the end of the day, Graham was being mentioned in the same breath as Tony Dorsett.
The sophomore rushed for 277 yards — the second-highest total in Pitt history — and three touchdowns on 29 carries to lead Pitt to a 44-17 victory over FIU at Heinz Field on Saturday.
"That was about as good an effort as I've seen by an individual," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said.
In the lore of Pitt football, only Dorsett had a more prolific day running the football, gaining 303 yards against Notre Dame at Pitt Stadium in 1975.
Pitt's other great backs - Ironhead Heyward, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, Kevan Barlow and Curvin Richards - never equaled Graham's production.
Working behind a new-look offensive line that featured Jordan Gibbs at right tackle and Lucas Nix at right guard, Graham gained 173 yards in the second half.
Pitt (2-2), which led only 13-10 at halftime, scored three touchdowns in an eight-minute span of the fourth quarter to rebound from a lopsided loss to Miami on Sept. 23 and gain some momentum heading into next week's game at Notre Dame.
"They wore us down," FIU coach Mario Cristobal said.
Graham had touchdown runs of 34, 79 and 19 yards for his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game. He had a chance to break Dorsett's record, but he didn't get any carries after his 19-yard touchdown run gave Pitt a 37-17 lead with 4:33 to play.
Pitt went with third-stringer Chris Burns after the Panthers recovered a fumble at the FIU 16 with 3:35 to play. Graham needed 27 yards to break Dorsett's hallowed record; there wasn't enough real estate to get it.
"I would have liked to have broken the record," Graham said. "But I was satisfied with the W."
Graham, an Elizabeth, N.J., native, also caught three passes for 19 yards and returned two kickoffs for 78 yards to give him 374 all-purpose yards. That is believed to tie the school record set by Dorsett (303 rush, 71 receiving) against Notre Dame in 1975.
"After my third touchdown, they said I was on pace to (break the record)," Graham said. "I was excited, but just being mentioned with a great back like Dorsett is a blessing."
Perhaps Graham's biggest play was a reception. After FIU (0-4) had cut the Pitt lead to 23-17 with 12:07 to play, the Panthers faced a third-and-13 at their own 6. Graham caught a check-down pass from Tino Sunseri, who completed 15 of 23 passes for 169 yards and one touchdown, and bulled his way for a 15-yard gain.
"His individual effort after contact was unbelievable," Wannstedt said.
On the next play, Graham broke through the line and outran the FIU defense 79 yards for a touchdown to give Pitt a 30-17 lead with 9:43 to play.
Graham credited the offensive line for opening holes and the wide receivers for making downfield blocks.
"Any play," he said, "can be a big play."
Ray Graham's 277 rushing yards on Saturday are the most by anyone in Division I football this year (not including other Saturday games):
Ray Graham : 29 carries, 277 yards, vs. Florida International
Denard Robinson, Michigan : 28 carries, 258 yards, vs. Notre Dame
Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State : 21 carries, 257 yards, vs. Washington State
Daniel Thomas, Kansas State : 28 carries, 234 yards, vs. UCLA
Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State : 23 carries, 228 yards, vs. Missouri