Ray Graham rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh's 47-17 victory over Temple last week, but the Panthers run into a different animal in the living, breathing creature that is Notre Dame's defense on Saturday.
Notre Dame's performance against then-No. 8 Oklahoma last week was frankly hard to believe. Yes, the Fighting Irish had a dominant defense coming into the matchup, but holding the Sooners' explosive offense to 13 points and limiting them to 0.6 yards per carry just didn't seem real.
The Fighting Irish, led by middle linebacker Manti Te'o, have allowed just 9.9 points per game this season, second only to No. 1 Alabama. That includes holding opponents to 3.14 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown, per CFBStats.com.
Oklahoma sophomore Blake Bell may have rushed for six yards on four carries against Notre Dame last week, but he became the first player to score a rushing touchdown against the Fighting Irish this season in the fourth quarter, and that was enough for Te'o to basically have steam blasting out of his ears.
The Fighting Irish went on to score 17 unanswered points from then on.
Te'o said after the game, via ESPN:
With this defense, when somebody scores, we get really frustrated. I think it showed our maturity by how we rallied after that touchdown. We just kept going.
Te'o—the key to Notre Dame's run defense—had 11 tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss in that game. Whenever Oklahoma tried to spread out the Fighting Irish defense, there was Te'o, flying to the ball.
Graham, who tore his ACL in Pittsburgh's win over Connecticut last October, is not to be taken lightly. Through his first seven games of last season, he led the nation in rushing (945 yards) while totaling nine touchdowns on the ground. Now that he is getting back to full health, it's no wonder why he exploded against Temple last week.
Still, nobody has been able to run on this Notre Dame defense this season and Graham will be no exception, nor will Pittsburgh freshman Rushel Shell. Oklahoma's Damien Williams was averaging 7.5 yards per carry coming into the Notre Dame game and managed just 29 yards on 13 carries.
The Fighting Irish will continue to prove they are for real against Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. No. 5 won't allow them to fail.
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