Freshman running back Rushel Shell was the breakout star of Pitt's 35-17 win Saturday against Virginia Tech, but Panthers coach Paul Chryst said he doesn't have a firm long-term plan for the running back rotation the rest of the season.
Shell got 23 carries for 157 yards Saturday and senior Ray Graham ran 24 times for 94 yards. Sophomore Isaac Bennett, who also figures to be part of the rotation, got just two carries. How those carries will be divided each week, though, will be decided on a game-by-game basis, Chryst said.
"We'll see how it unfolds," he said. "I thought all the backs did some good things. Obviously, Isaac didn't get as many snaps as he's had in previous games but it's not indicative of anything he's been doing or not doing. I thought Rushel and Ray both did some good things."
Chryst has experience working three backs in a rotation. When he was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin in 2010, he was 4 yards away from having three 1,000 yard rushers. That year for the Badgers, James White got 1,052 yards on 156 carries, John Clay had 1,012 on 187 and Montee Ball had 996 on 163.
"I saw shades of some of the other times I've been around where backs have split [time]," Chryst said. "I saw them celebrating each other's accomplishments and what was happening. I think there's some pride in that running back group."
One thing he wasn't concerned about, though, was making sure all of the backs were content with their playing time.
"If you're honest with people and they're not happy, then that's on them," Chryst said.
After the win Saturday, the players gave the game ball to Chryst to celebrate his first win as Pitt's coach.
First, Chryst gave a game ball to director of football relations Bob Junko, who has been with the program since 1997. Then, the players gave a ball to Chryst and sang the fight song to celebrate a win for the first time this season.
"It certainly means a lot and when it comes from the players. That's what you're in it for," Chryst said.
A number of players battled through injury to finish off the victory Saturday.
Tino Sunseri looked like he injured his leg on an interception early in the fourth quarter and limped badly off the field. He didn't miss an offensive snap, though, and despite appearing for postgame interviews with crutches, insisted he was "fine" and would face Gardner-Webb Saturday.
Chryst said defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Bryan Murphy also played through some bumps and bruises.
Receiver Mike Shanahan got banged up trying to make a tackle on Kyshoen Jarrett's 94-yard punt return, but played through and ended up catching the sealing touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
"I thought for sure I was going to make the tackle, then sure as I was about ready to do it, he just came and killed me," Shanahan said.
"We work too hard to sit out for little bruises and stuff like that. I think it's going to take a lot more than that for me or anybody else on the team to stop playing."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published September 18, 2012 4:00 AM