Ray Graham Has Earned Starting Spot

A week ago over at SB Nation Pittsburgh, I wrote that while Graham had outplayed Lewis during the Miami game, I didn't believe he deserved to be the starter just yet. 277 yards later, I'm ready to change my opinion. Joe Starkey of the PG-Trib also thinks that Graham has earned the spot as well.

Graham has clearly been Pitt's better back this season and has jumpstarted the offense when he's been in the game. Yesterday, he had about as perfect a game as you could have. He averaged nearly ten yards per attempt, broke several large runs including a 79-yard touchdown, and was Pitt's best player on the field by a wide margin.

Lewis sat out the game with a shoulder injury, but Dave Wannstedt said he could have played if he was needed:

“The running game with Ray Graham was as good of an effort as I have ever seen by an individual. I thought that was great for him. We knew we have two good tailbacks, but Dion Lewis was banged up all week in practice. He was ready to play, but was held out intentionally. We will be fortunate to be able to use them next week against Notre Dame.”

Clearly, he wasn't needed on this day. And not only wasn't Lewis needed yesterday, no other backup was needed. Other than a run in the 2nd quarter by fullback Henry Hynoski and three runs late by backup Chris Burns after the game was no longer in question, no other running back was used. Graham literally put the team on his back and led them to victory.

However, despite the career day by Graham (whose 277 yards rank 2nd all-time at Pitt behind Tony Dorsett's 303-yard game against Notre Dame more than 30 years ago), Wannstedt says that Lewis is still the team's starter:

"Yes, he is," Wannstedt said, when asked if Lewis is still the starter, following Graham’s performance. "The way we want to run the ball, I’ve gone through four tailbacks. We were so fortunate that Dion stayed healthy last year with the number of carries he had. We’re going to need them both. Ray Graham had as good an effort as I’ve seen by an individual. That was great for him."

I don't have a major problem with this because Graham will still get his carries. And from the way he's played recently, he should be getting more of them. But I would start Graham not only because of Lewis' struggles this season, but because of Graham's emergence. By no means should Pitt give up on him completely, and I expect Graham and Lewis to split the carries for the most part at Notre Dame.

But with three consecutive 100-yard games, I think Graham's earned the starting spot.

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