When Pitt beat Connecticut 35-20 at Heinz Field on Wednesday night, the Panthers got a much-needed win to snap a two-game losing streak and show some signs of life on offense for the first time in almost a month.
But there was a shadow cast over the win from the early goings when junior running back Ray Graham suffered an injury to his right knee on Pitt's fourth offensive. He left the game and did not return.
"Ray going down at the beginning of the game was a big blow for us," head coach Todd Graham said after the game. "We'll have to wait and see on him; we're just hoping and praying that he's okay. He was in good spirits and we'll know more on that in the days to come."
Pitt did not have any specific information on Graham's injury after the game, and he will have an MRI on Thursday. But he was unable to put any weight on his right knee while leaving the field, and was carted off the sidelines before returning and watching the game on crutches.
Graham entered the game as the nation's second-leading rusher, with 939 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He also led Pitt this season with 30 receptions for 200 yards. He rushed for 18 yards on his first carry of Wednesday night's game and suffered the injury on the next play.
After the game, Todd Graham called his star running back "irreplaceable," and Pitt's players agreed.
"When you lose a player like Ray Graham, it hurts a lot," redshirt junior quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "He's a vocal leader and he's also one of the best backs in America. But the way Ray is, he wanted to make sure that we kept moving forward, that we kept on track, and that we won this game."
Pitt won the game with 419 yards passing from Sunseri, but the Panthers also got significant contributions from Graham's replacement, redshirt senior Zach Brown. The transfer from Wisconsin only gained 30 yards on 12 carries, but he caught nine passes for 84 yards to lead the team in both categories.
"It was mixed emotions," Brown said. "I call Ray a good friend of mine, and you hate to see somebody go down like that. I still hope everything goes well with the MRI. I hope he comes back, because we need him."
Still, Graham wasn't far from Brown throughout the game. After he returned to the sidelines on crutches, the junior tailback stayed in close contact with the redshirt senior.
"He was talking to me the whole game, telling me if I was missing anything or what to look for," Brown said. "He was helping me out like a coach on the sideline."
"He is an unbelievable leader on our football team," Todd Graham said. "I've never had a player who can match what he does work ethic-wise. He loves this game and he plays this game the way it's supposed to be played. He's special."