The Pittsburgh Panthers (3-2, 1-0 Big East) routed #16 South Florida (4-1, 0-1 Big East) by a score of 44-17 Thursday night in Heinz Field, showing a national television audience that they should not be written off yet after losses to Iowa and Notre Dame. That high-octane offensive system of Todd Graham‘s finally came through with the kind of output that was advertised when Graham came to town. But it was another Graham that was the story of the night.
Meanwhile, in Texas the Houston Cougars improved to 5-0 (1-0 Conference USA) after winning a wild game against Conference USA rival UTEP (2-3, 0-2 Conference USA), 49-42. Quarterback Case Keenum had another big night as the entire offense put up 710 yards of offense, but before Houston fans start clamoring for Top 25 recognition (and BCS-busting respect), the Cougars have some areas of concern that need to be addressed.
Here are the three lessons I took note of Thursday evening.
1. Ray Graham is one of the best running backs in the nation
Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham was not satisfied rushing for 100 yards against a Big East opponent for the first time in his collegiate career, so he rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns to lead Pittsburgh to a blowout victory against South Florida. Graham’s rushing production had dipped in each of the first four weeks of the season but on Thursday night he became the focus of the offense, and even saw time on special teams.
As long as Graham is healthy and on the field, Pittsburgh’s offense should be in good hands moving forward. It is still too early to evaluate if this is the real Pittsburgh team we will see this season (South Florida is winless on Thursday night games) but if they can keep this kind of offense going, they will be tough to beat in conference play.
2. Case Keenum needs protection
Houston’s Case Keenum once again put up some big numbers (471 passing yards, 2 touchdowns) in the latest win for the Cougars, but he was under pressure form start to finish and forced to get rid of the football with defenders breathing down his neck all night long. Granted, he is able to do so with great success, but if Houston was pressured this much by UTEP, it shows that there is a legitimate weakness on the team.
Houston also gave up 42 points in another high-scoring game against the Miners.
3. South Florida is still growing
The Bulls came in to Thursday night’s Big East opener in Pittsburgh riding a four game winning streak in which South Florida blew out three opponents and snuck out of South Bend with a win against Notre Dame. While B.J. Daniels had shown progress at the quarterback position early on, Thursday night’s game showed that these Bulls still have some growing pains to go through before they can be anointed the Big East team to beat.
South Florida is still going to be in the mix in the conference all season long and could still pull away with the conference’s automatic BCS berth, but losing the first game against Pittsburgh means they have catching up to do already.
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