If there was one thing crystal clear on Paul Chryst's résumé when he applied for the head-coaching job at Pitt, it was that he knew how to handle running backs.
As offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Chryst had three backs who each rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in 2010, and he coached Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball in '11.
This year, Chryst has the enviable problem of having two backs who, in his opinion, can be game-changers.
In the team's 45-35 loss Saturday against Louisville, freshman Rushel Shell got three times as many carries as senior Ray Graham, who is Pitt's starter, at least according to the team's depth chart. Chryst said both will play integral roles in the Panthers offense.
"An ideal would be that they're both really productive and feeding off each other," Chryst said. "I never have gotten caught up when I've been a part of situations in the past where so-and-so needs to get so many carries and this guy gets so many carries."
Shell had 18 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals, and Graham had six for 20 yards. For the season, Graham has 95 carries to Shell's 63, but Shell was suspended for one game and had only one carry against Syracuse because of injury.
Chryst said Shell's extra workload Saturday was largely a product of the in-game situations.
"How it disperses, a lot of it depends on the game," Chryst said. "Go back to the Virginia Tech game when we had the lead, now, [in] the fourth quarter, you're running it a bit more, and that can skew some things in a positive way with more attempts. Ideally, both are factors and, when they're both playing at a high level, they're both capable of it."
Chryst cited the punt team as one unit that must improve after its performance Saturday against Louisville.
The unit had a punt blocked and failed to get off another kick because of a low snap. Pitt ranks 112th in Division I-A in average yards per punt with 32.48.
"The protection had been pretty good, and I would not have guessed the mistakes we made," Chryst said. "I didn't see them during the week, so those ones caught us or caught me off guard a little bit."
Starting long snapper Kevin Barthelemy has missed the past two games because of a hand injury, and Chryst said it would probably be another week or two before he returned. Redshirt freshman David Murphy has been handling the long-snapping duties in his absence.
Despite some early season struggles, Chryst said he still has confidence in place-kicker Kevin Harper.
Harper is 6 of 11 on field-goal attempts this season, and 4 for 9 on kicks longer than 30 yards. Saturday, he missed his only attempt from 50. The kick looked like it had the distance, but missed wide right.
"I told the guys there is going to come a time where we're going to need Kevin and he's going to deliver for us," Chryst said.
In the fourth quarter, Chryst opted to go for it on fourth-and-8 rather than attempt a 39-yard field goal to cut Louisville's lead to seven. Chryst said he felt good about the call, but not the result after the pass play failed.
"It's hard to sit up here knowing the result that we didn't get it to say that 'Yeah, I feel great about that,'" he said.
ESPN announced Monday that Pitt's home game against Temple Oct. 27 would kick off at noon and be televised on WTAE as the Big East game of the week and on ESPN3.com.
First Published October 16, 2012 4:00 AM