Running back Ray Graham's biggest admirer may be his new coach
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Pitt's offense was marketed as "exciting" and "explosive" by first-year Panthers coach Todd Graham and that had followers expecting footballs flying all over the field and points coming in huge chunks.
The reality is that even in the preseason, Graham knew the best player on offense is tailback Ray Graham, and he knew the junior would have to carry the load for the offense until the passing game came around.
What Todd Graham also has learned is that Ray Graham, who rushed for 117 yards and three touchdowns to lead Pitt to a 35-29 win against Maine Saturday, is one of the fiercest competitors he has ever known.
Ray Graham's competitive fire is something the coach hopes will catch on with the rest of the Panthers.
"What gives me grounds to stay positive is the performance of No. 1 [Graham]," Todd Graham said. "He is just absolutely phenomenal. It is not just his skills -- it is how he plays the game, with tremendous passion -- just the level he goes to as a competitor.
"He is unbelievable on game day. He is relentless, not just running the ball but blocking. He is a winner; there is not anybody I ever coached who is a better competitor than Ray Graham on game day."
The coach also described his running back as a leader, noting that Ray Graham ran over to the kickoff team after scoring a touchdown to get them fired up.
Graham the player, who was named the Big East offensive player of the week last week after rushing for 201 yards and three touchdwons in Pitt's 35-16 win against Buffalo Sept. 3, said he doesn't think he plays any harder than anyone else.
But it was clear Graham played with a sense of urgency Saturday as he made a lot of his yards on his own by making defenders miss him and by breaking tackles. He dived to score one of his touchdowns and took a big hit but held on to the ball.
"I just want to win, really" Graham said. "We just have to finish these drives, we really have to. But I'm not worried about who scores or how many yards I get, I really just want to win. When I'm on the field, with the adrenaline rush and everything, you are just playing football."
The Panthers offense -- particularly the passing attack -- sputtered some against Maine and there were several breakdowns by the offensive line. But Todd Graham said as long as Ray Graham is on the field, the Panthers will have a chance to win every week.
The tailback said it is not time to give up on the offense.
"We have to get comfortable with this new offense, once we do we will be a force to be reckoned with," Ray Graham said. "But it is all about us, we need to be the ones who figure it out and when we do, I think that's when we will get comfortable and you'll see a different offense."
First Published September 12, 2011 12:00 am