September 15, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back Rushel Shell (4) stiff-arms Virginia Tech Hokies linebacker Bruce Taylor (51) as Shell carries the bal during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Panthers won 35-17. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)
It's not often that a three touchdown game by a senior star running back is overshadowed, but that's exactly what happened to Ray Graham's performance Saturday against Virginia Tech. His freshman teammate Rushel Shell wowed the Heinz Field crowd with 157 yards on 23 en route to Pitt's 35-17 upset of the Hokies.
This weekend, the talented freshman got his share on ink in the local papers, and not-surprisingly, Shell-related puns in the headlines.As if 23 carries for 157 yards as a freshman wasn't impressive enough, for Pitt fans, it was how powerful a runner he is that makes him exciting. For Shell, it's about just getting back on the field:
"It was really exciting, just to get back out on the field," he said. "It's been a whole year since I got to play football in high school and compete. But it's a new level. So, everything's a lot faster, and everybody is just as good as I am.
"My first run was kind of a relief to me, to know I could do this. I could excel at this level, as long as I keep working as hard as I've been."
Whenever a Shell piece is written, it seems his family situation always comes up. And to be fair, how could it not? Shell's a freshman and already has a full family to support. How that must weigh on him as a player is an interesting take for any article. That being said, I won't be sad when it doesn't come up so often and we can focus on his incredible talent.
For right now, Chryst has to figure out how to use Shell and Graham, not to mention Isaac Bennett:
Now, Pitt coach Paul Chryst faces the enviable challenge of having to figure out exactly how to divvy up carries among Pitt's running backs. Against Virginia Tech, Shell got 23 carries and Graham got 24. The previous week in Cincinnati, Graham had 19 and Shell only got eight.
Graham is still working back from offseason ACL surgery, but said his knee feels better and better every week. Against the Hokies, he earned 94 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns. He also added a touchdown reception.
"It's good to have those 1-2 punches," Graham said. "I think Rushel Shell is a good running back and he's going to continue to get better from here."
Sophomore Isaac Bennett is also in the mix, though he seems to have carved out a niche as Pitt's go-to back for passing situations. All four of his touches Saturday (two rushes, two receptions) came in long-yardage or passing situations.
Ideally, Pitt is running the ball 45+ times, but realistically, that's not going to happen. With Tino Sunseri pushing back any sort of quarterback controversy, it's nice of the running backs to give us something new to argue about.