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The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Paul Zeise reported late last night that Pitt running back Ray Graham was scheduled to have an MRI today on his injured knee, and the results, apparently, weren't good at all as he Tweets some news many Panther fans feared as Graham was helped off the field in tears.
So that's it. The nation's fourth leading rusher is lost for the rest of 2011 after one play last night against Connecticut. Truly a huge blow to an offense that appeared to get a bit of its momentum back against the Huskies, managing to roll up 35 points, most of them without Graham. Pitt also loses a productive receiver in Saddler, who'd racked up 207 yards and a touchdown on 19 receptions.
Whether Pitt can sustain these loses remains to be seen, but make no mistake, they're a huge blow to the Panthers' Big East hopes on paper. Time to see if the replacements can step up.
Star Pitt running back Ray Graham was injured in the Panthers' 35-20 win against Connecticut on Wednesday night at Heinz Field, and the prognosis looks pretty bleak, at least for the moment.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Paul Zeise reported on his blog that Graham will be examined on Thursday.
He was accompanied on the sidelines initially by his parents - never a good sign - then he was carted out of the tunnel. He did return on crutches and he will have an MRI on Thursday but again, it doesn't look good right now.
How much will Pitt miss Graham if he is ruled out for significant time? Consider this: Last night, Graham had 19 yards on two carries, a 9.5 yard per carry average. His replacement, Zach Brown, accounted for just 30 yards on 12 carries, a 2.5 yards per carry average.
If not for quarterback Tino Sunseri's 40 rushing yards, it would have been a pretty rough night on the ground for the Panthers. The absence of Graham in their back field will probably do a number on what they'd like to do in the running game, and that, in turn, could more pressure on Sunseri and the passing game.
The good news for Pitt is that the Panthers don't play again until Nov. 5 against Cincinnati at Heinz Field. If Graham's injury turns out to be less severe than feared, he'll have a little extra time to get himself ready for the game against the Bearcats.
Pitt’s 35-20 win over UConn on Wednesday night will take a back seat to the news that Ray Graham was injured in the game. Ironically, though, Pitt’s offense had one of its best games of the year without their star player.
Tino Sunseri threw for 419 yards, good for fourth all-time at Pitt and he arguably played his most impressive game of his career. Sunseri was not only accurate in the air completing nearly 70% of his passes, but he also scrambled all over the field, breaking off several impressive runs during the game. As I wrote in the recap over at Cardiac Hill, the offense works so much better when Sunseri is a viable rushing threat. Teams can’t simply drop back into coverage and his scrambling ability forces defenders to stay at home … which, in turn, opens up passing lanes.
All fans still won’t be pleased with Sunseri, though. In taking a sack right before the half when Pitt had no timeouts left, he received a chorus of boos from the light crowd. That’s a play that he simply can’t allow and cost Pitt a chance at a field goal just before the half. While many sacks this year can be attributed to the subpar offensive line, plays like that are the reason fans called for Trey Anderson earlier this season. But all in all, Sunseri played an incredible game and proved that he’s the best quarterback to run Todd Graham’s offense this year.
The Panthers’ defense also had a good game, getting to Huskies’ QB Johnny McEntee on numerous occasions, sacking him seven times. Pitt also pressured him constantly and while he played a decent game, the defense didn’t let UConn sustain long drives. Pitt shut down the Huskies on nearly every third down, forcing them into a fourth down on 11 of 14 occasions.
Pitt wasn’t perfect, though. The team racked up a ton of penalties (eight for 70 yards) and fans saw several false starts on the offensive line. The line is inexperienced, but at some point, has to get better. False starts continually put Pitt in bad position and the coaching staff will need to find a way to get linemen to become more disciplined.
The Graham injury is obviously going to be a blow. He’s clearly the best player Pitt has and with him, the team can stay in almost every game. There’s no word yet on just how injured he may be, but the fact that he was carted off and later reappeared on crutches isn’t encouraging. He did appear upbeat on the sidelines, but that’s about as positive as it gets. Head coach Todd Graham also didn’t sound too encouraged in the halftime interview and it doesn’t look good at this point.
With Graham, Pitt can challenge for the Big East. Without him, that road gets much tougher. The Panthers take on Cincinnati next weekend in what is looking like a big-time matchup. Pitt needs to keep winning and while that game isn’t an elimination contest for the Bearcats, it could be for the Panthers, who already have a Big East loss to Rutgers.
The Pitt Panthers got the ball first after leading 21-3 at halftime. The Panthers promptly went four plays before punting, giving the ball right back to UConn. UConn scored on an easy 62-yard touchdown pass from Johnny McEntee to Kashif Moore, who was left completely uncovered. UConn nearly doubled their first half passing yardage in a single play, cutting into the Pitt lead 21-10.
UConn forced Pitt to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, getting the ball back and went down the field on a five minute clock burning drive, assisted by a personal foul on the Pitt defense, to kick a field goal and put the game within a score, 21-13.
Despite the charge by UConn scoring 10 unanswered points, the Pitt offense went right down the field exploiting the middle of the UConn defense marching right down the football field. Quarterback Tino Sunseri connected with tight end Mike Shanahan again for a 27-yard touchdown pass and catch. At the end of the third quarter, Pitt leads 28-13.
After scoring 14 points in the first quarter without Ray Graham, the Pittsburgh Panthers offense began to slow to a crawl. The Pitt defense continued to shut down the UConn offense, limiting the Huskies to just a field goal before the half. The UConn passing attack with Johnny McEntee was completely nonexistent, gaining just 29 yards on the ground on 13 attempts.
The Pitt offense struggled for much of the second quarter but was able to pick up the pace mid-way through and add to their lead. The Panthers scored on just four plays on a drive that went 68 yards. Quarterback Tino Sunseri hit Devin Street for a 21-yard gain, then two plays later Sunseri hit Cameron Sadler for a 40-yard gain setting up the Panthers on the 3-yard line. Running back Zach Brown punched it in from three yards out to put the Panthers up 21-3.
Pitt got the ball back with under two minutes left and went for the jugular trying to tack on another score before halftime. The Panthers hit on a big 28-yard pass and picked up a personal foul that put them within striking distance. With 13 seconds left however, Tino Sunseri was sacked rolling out and the half ended, as Pitt had no timeouts left.
The Pitt Panthers opened up the game with a gut wrenching loss. On his second carry of the game, star running back Ray Graham went down with a bad knee injury. Graham made a jump cut in the backfield and immediately went down grabbing his knee without any contact. Graham was carted off the field and his return to the game is unlikely.
Despite the loss of Graham, the Panthers were able to move down the football field thanks to quarterback Tino Sunseri getting it done on the ground and in the air. Sunseri hit on an 18-yard pass to Mike Shanahan followed by a 22-yard Sunseri run. Two plays later, Sunseri ran the ball in from 8 yards out to put Pitt up over UConn 7-0.
After a few stalled drives by both teams, the Pitt offense once again got going through Sunseri on a scoring drive sparked by a 15-yard pass to receiver Devin Street. On the very next play, Sunseri hit Shanahan once again in the middle of the field for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham injured his right leg making a cut out of the backfield. Graham grabbed his knee instantly as he made his cut, going right to the ground without an contact. He had to be carried off the field by his teammates and was visibly in pain. It was just Graham's second carry of the game following an 18-yard run. It looks like a serious injury, as Graham was swarmed by trainers on the sideline. When news of the specific injury is available, we will update you. Graham was carted from the sideline to the locker room, so it looks like he will be out for the rest of the game.
Junior running back Zach Brown replaced Graham after the injury. Brown is a transfer from Wisconsin who was available to play right away because of graduation rules. Brown is a much bigger running back and has seen just limited time during the 2011 season.
For more on the Pitt Panthers, check out Cardiac Hill.