Coming into the 2010 season, the Pitt Panthers felt very confident about what their offense would be able to do, partly because Dion Lewis would be back as the starting tailback.
Lewis was coming off of a freshman season in which he rushed for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns. Those were practically the same numbers that 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram had, except Lewis did it in one less game.
If you looked at any preseason Heisman projections, you most certainly found Lewis's name listed near the top of all of them.
Forget all of that. After three games, Lewis is off to a miserable start to the 2010 season. Through three games, Lewis has rushed for only 143 yards on 47 carries. His 3.0 yards per carry is down 2.5 yards from a season ago.
Add together the preseason expectations along with the very slow start and is there a more disappointing player in the nation right now then Lewis?
What's been the problem? It's not all on Lewis's shoulders.
The offense is designed to run through the sophomore running back, but the Panthers coaching staff; in particular I mean head coach Dave Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, have not put Lewis in many spots to have success.
Other teams know that Pitt wants to run Lewis early and often and have tried to take away the run. Pitt often sees eight and nine man fronts and the offensive line right now is not capable of having much success against that.
Teams are daring Pitt to throw the ball, but Wannstedt continues to baby quarterback Tino Sunseri. Other teams know that Wannstedt will not open things up and attempt to stretch the field.
Now, that's not to say that Sunseri is capable of doing the job anyways, but when his only attempts early in games come on third and long, then the Pitt offense, and especially Lewis, have no chance to succeed.
Pitt has to do something to soften up opposing defenses. Until you make other teams respect the passing game, they won't. If that's the case, Lewis will continue to be bottled up.
Another problem has been the offensive line. Many people didn't consider the fact that having three new starters would be a problem, but it's been way worse then that. It's been a disaster.
The offensive line will have a new look and it's way overdue because this unit has killed this team.
Jordan Gibbs moves to right tackle, Lucas Nix moves from right tackle to right guard and Greg Gaskins has been benched.
Why wait until Game 4 though?
The only success, and I use that term loosely, that the Pitt offense has had this season has not come with Lewis as the running back, but instead with fellow sophomore Ray Graham in the backfield.
Graham's numbers look much better, gaining 215 yards on only 23 carries, averaging an impressive 9.3 yards per attempt.
Would the Pitt offense be better off with Graham replacing Lewis as the starter? Maybe, but you have to take Graham's numbers with a grain of salt.
Graham has run for at least 100 yards in the two games he's played. That's impressive, but most of his success has come against FCS New Hampshire and against Miami's second team defense. That doesn't take away from what he's done though. When his number has been called, Graham has been ready and he's been effective.
The difference between the two is pretty noticeable. Lewis is more of a north-south runner. He's not going to make many people miss. The problem right now is that Lewis isn't a very patient runner at the moment, but in his defense half of the opposing defensive line is in the backfield every time he touches the ball.
Graham on the other hand is more shifty and elusive. He is the more likely guy that can make something out of nothing.
Who should start? I'd still give the ball to Lewis, but he has to start producing and soon.
No matter what reason you buy into on why Lewis is off to a bad start, the facts are that he is and the Pitt offense can't have success without a productive ground game.
Right now, no one in college football has under achieved more.
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