BY NATALIE BIGLEY
Pitt crushed Temple on Saturday 47-17 for its first Big East Conference win of the season and to keep its hopes for a bowl game very much alive.
Pitt running back Ray Graham led the effort with two touchdowns and 109 rushing yards.
“I thought Ray ran really well,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “He hit some things. Hopefully, he keeps getting more comfortable and better. I thought today he cut it loose a little bit.”
Graham continues to improve each week in the wake of last year’s season-ending knee injury. Not surprisingly, Pitt (4-4, 1-3) is improving as well.
And there were certainly some plays where Graham looked like he did before his injury.
One of them was a 35-yard run in the fourth quarter he where he broke several tackles and before finding room to run.
“It was electric,” Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri said of the play. “It looked like the old Ray to me. He was able to make a couple cuts make some people miss and just got down the field. As a unit, it was awesome to see back there.”
Graham’s two touchdowns came in the last few minutes of the second quarter, and they provided Pitt with a 31-7 lead over Temple (3-4, 2-2).
On his first touchdown, Graham ran for the Temple end zone but was hit at the one-yard line and appeared to fumble into the end zone. The referees initially called this play a fumble recovery by Temple.
After review, it was ruled that Graham’s elbow was down at the one. Graham then ran in from a yard and Pitt led, 24-7.
Then, Pitt’s defense forced a quick three-and-out and the Panthers got the football back with nine seconds left in the second quarter..
Sunseri immediately went to work, driving the ball down to the Temple 4-yard line with only seven seconds left.
Instead of settling for three, Pitt gambled and went for six.
And sure enough, Graham got those six points on a touchdown pass.
It was a big moment.
“Whenever the defense got the stop, we were wondering if we were going to be in two-minute mode or if we were going to take it in to the half,” offensive lineman Ryan Turnley said. “(Chryst) came out and said we’re going to be in two-minute mode and we got a couple of quick completions.”
Temple’s defense, on the other hand, could not stop Pitt on the ground or in the air.
Pitt’s defense, meanwhile, thwarted a run-centered Owls offense, keeping it to only 129 rushing yards.
And the Pitt defense did not let up for the majority of the game, though the special teams stumbled on a 77-yard kick off return by Matt Harris that led to Temple’s first score.
Pitt’s defense also did a good job putting pressure on Temple quarterback Chris Coyer and his wide receivers, and linebacker Dan Mason came up with a big stop on a fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter.
“I thought he made a heck of a play on that fourth down,” Chryst said. “He was productive. He was around the ball. All these guys, you appreciate what they do and hold them to a high standard.”
In addition to this being Pitt’s first Big East win, this game marked Pitt’s first game of the season with multiple fumble recoveries.
Cornerback LaFayette Pitts forced a fumble by Temple’s Deion Miller, which led to one of Graham’s touchdowns. And a Pitt punt bounced off of Temple’s Anthony Robey, giving Pitt possession in Temple territory. The Panthers eventually capitalized with a 1-yard touchdown run by Rushel Shell.
Even though Chryst said his players still have areas they need to improve on, he was very pleased with the Panthers performance.
“Overall, it was important to get a win today,” Chryst said. “I thought a lot of guys made some significant plays to help us, so it feels good.”
To read stories in their entirety, visit one of these links:
Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.
Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat