MORGANTOWN - Pitt will play its third game without junior running back Ray Graham when the Panthers refresh the "Backyard Brawl" against West Virginia at Mountaineer Field on Friday night at 7 (ESPN).
Graham was the nation's No. 2 rusher at 134.14 yards per game before he tore the ACL in his right knee on the fourth play against Connecticut on Oct. 26. Zach Brown, a senior transfer from Wisconsin, is replacing Graham. He's has rushed for 30, 54 and 86 yards in the past three games.
"There's no replacing Ray," Pitt Coach Todd Graham said. "Ray was really something special, but Zach has been unbelievable. A lot of people thought that we would lose a lot, and we did, but Zach has been stellar and he's gotten better each week."
Graham, 42 rushing yards shy of 1,000 when he was hurt, had accounted for 85 percent of the team's rushing yards, 48 percent of its total offense and 31 percent of its scoring. He's an inch shorter, 25 pounds lighter and much different from Brown.
The Panthers (5-5, 3-2 Big East) have compensated and quarterback Tino Sunseri has helped.
The junior has 73, 90 and 54 yards rushing the past three games - he's lost 33, 26 and 23 because of sacks - and one rushing touchdown in every one. He's also completed 60 of 102 pass attempts for 833 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception.
"You don't replace Ray Graham," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said. "He was one of the better backs in the entire country, a fantastic player. Now Tino's elevated his game since Ray went out and he's played better.
"He's kind of taken the team on his shoulders and been the leader on offense. He's a guy that understands the game, a coach's kid and all the rest. You don't replace Ray Graham, but schematically, they do a lot of the same things."
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PITT'S OFFENSIVE coordinator is Calvin Magee, who was WVU's running backs coach from 2001-07 and offensive coordinator the final three seasons. Pitt's secondary coach is Tony Gibson, who was WVU's defensive backs coach from 2001-07.
Both know WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and Casteel's 3-3-5 stack system quite well, which is perhaps an added advantage to Graham's familiarity with Holgorsen's offense.
Graham and Holgorsen have coached against each other the past three seasons and Holgorsen was at one time convinced Graham's Tulsa teams were trying to decipher Holgorsen's signals.
Pitt's knowledge of the Mountaineers might be a benefit, although Holgorsen isn't sure whom it helps.