Why, yes Ray. You are #1. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
It's the day after Pitt dominated South Florida and it's still shocking how well they played. Let's run through some of the final stats of the game:
Total offense: 523 yards
Rushing offense: 307 yards
Ray Graham's total yards: 303 yards
6 tackles for loss
2 forced fumbles
To say that the offense rolled over a vaunted Bulls defense is even an understatement. As I said immediately after the game, the Bulls were shocked by Tino's running. It really made a big difference in the running and passing game. USF had trouble figuring out whether Tino or Ray would take the carry and it allowed Pitt to run through for big gains. The Bulls would try and crowd the box, only to see Tino complete a short pass outside for a decent gain or Ray Graham spin his way towards yet another first down. By Pitt's first drive of the second half, the defense was gassed. That is what this offense will try to do each week. Move quickly, confuse the opposing defense, and wear the other side out.
The defense on the other hand looked, at least on paper, that B.J. Daniels would run all over them and cut through a weak pass defense. What actually happened was the complete opposite, though. Many fans worried about how Pitt would fare in the 4th quarter. Consider this: In the second half, not including USF's final drive when the game was well out of reach, Pitt had allowed 137 yards of total offense, including just 47 in the 4th quarter (minus the last drive of course). The defense did not give in at all. They held Daniels to just 43 yards rushing
Kevin Harper continues to shed any doubt that he should be replaced as kicker, going 3 for 3 on FGs and 5 for 5 on PATs. He has now converted seven consecutive FGs, including two further than 45 yards, after a rough start to the season.
The true stars of the game were the offensive line. When Lucas Nix went down on the second play, a lot of fans, myself included, feared the worst ... not just for Nix, but the line as well. Last week, Pitt had FIVE false start penalties. This week, one. Last week, Notre Dame sacked Tino six times. This week, three times. That might sound bad initially, but two of the sacks came when the game was well out of reach and the other came on the last play of the first half. The line blocked very well and allowed Tino time to complete his passes and gave Graham the spacing he needed to bust through.
I have been critical of Cam Saddler in the past, saying that despite the hype about his speed, he really hadn't done much. He proved me wrong this week. I still haven't totally bought into him, but he had six receptions for 68 yards, including a great catch in the 3rd quarter where a Bulls defender rammed into him as he was making a catch on the sidelines, yet still managed to not only stay inbounds, but maintain possession.
Two players on the defensive side also deserve special recognition: Jarred Holley and Todd Thomas. Holley was all over the field, forcing a fumble while recording a sack and 2 tackles for loss, all while leading the team in tackles with ten. Thomas, on the other hand, suffered what appeared to be a serious injury in the middle of the game. But he came back and played a big part on defense, stopping B.J. Daniels on a key 4th down in Pitt territory and nearly recorded an interception.
The big question is now can this team keep up the good play when they go on the road to face a better than expected Rutgers team? You can bet that the three former Pitt coaches now on the Rutgers sideline will be telling their players all about the tendencies of the Pitt players (although with this new offense, you have to wonder how much of an effect that will have). For now, the players have a day off to relax before preparing for a trip to Jersey.