The key for the Bulls’ defense this week will be to limit Pittsburgh’s junior tailback, Ray Graham.
His standout play this season has allowed him to amass 508 yards, scoring six touchdowns on 100 carries through four games. Graham only rushed for 89 yards in Pittsburgh’s 15-12 loss last week against Notre Dame, but he did have eight catches for 43 yards and his individual yards accounted for half of Pittsburgh’s total offense.
The good news for USF is that Graham has rushed for less than 100 yards in each of the last two games. Nonetheless, coach Skip Holtz said he still poses a threat to the Bulls’ defense.
“He’s leading the conference in rushing by, I think, by about (84) yards,” he said. “He’s got about 127 yards a game, I think, is what he’s rushing for.”
Graham’s elusiveness is what concerns Holtz the most.
“You look at him on film and it looks like he’s down and they’ve got him down and he cuts back against the grain,” he said. “He is very unpredictable. But he is extremely quick. I think that’s probably one of his bigger assets. He is a zone runner, he’s got that jump cut … We’re going to have to challenge our defense with really running the ball this week.”
USF defensive coordinator Mark Snyder addressed Graham’s play and knows what could be in store for the defense Thursday, he said.
“Ray Graham scares me,” he said. “He’s pretty good.”
Big plays lead the way
An advantage USF has going into the matchup against Pittsburgh is its big-play offense, which had three plays for more than 50 yards last week against UTEP.
Wide receivers Victor Marc and Lindsey Lamar have impressed offensive coordinator Todd Fitch. Each of them had big plays last week – Marc with a 67-yard touchdown run and Lamar with a 54-yard touchdown catch.
“They bought into (the blocking) last week,” Fitch said. “It’s good to see it continue on and it’s going to be critical because that’s how you get chunks of yardage that we’re going to need as we enter into Big East play.”
Pittsburgh’s defense, which has not allowed a single opponent to score in the first quarter so far this season, might not allow USF to get big plays like it has against its last three opponents. But, if the Bulls are able to pull off plays like they have so far this season, it will most likely be the game’s deciding factor, Fitch said.