Todd Graham has long been heralded as an offensive genius and quarterback guru. He arrived on the NCAA head coaching scene in 2006 and has since sported the nation’s top offense twice. Everyone knows the efficiency of which Graham runs his offense with, but just how much better was it than Pitt’s in prior years.
Many fans believe Graham features a pass-first strategy–and he does. What people fail to understand is that the former Tulsa and Rice head coach does not simply abandon the run. Since 2006, his team’s total rushing mark has eclipsed Pitt’s total four times. Only once, in 2009, did the Panthers boast more total rushing yards. Over those five seasons, Graham’s running backs gained 3,031 more yards than the Panthers backfield. That figure is 687 yards better than Pitt’s highest season rushing total during that time frame. Keep in mind, the Panthers have had three running backs drafted since 2006.
Part of the reason why Graham has excelled in the rushing attack is because of his mobile quarterback. G.J. Kinne has totaled 960 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns over the past two campaigns. In total, Graham’s rushers have outscored Pitt’s by 20 touchdowns since 2006. Only once in the past five seasons have the Panthers crossed the goal line more times on the ground than a Graham-run offense.
The numbers only get uglier (or prettier when considering that Graham will be coaching the Panthers next season) when comparing the passing attacks. Three Tulsa quarterbacks have thrown for over 3,500 yards over the past four seasons. Pitt’s highest passer in the same period was Bill Stull, with 2,633 yards. The Golden Hurricane’s David Johnson topped the 4,000 yard mark in 2008 while Paul Smith broke the 5,000 yard barrier in 2007. In fact, Tulsa became the first team in NCAA history to have a 5,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher, and three 1,000-yard receivers in a single season. Smith also broke an NCAA record by throwing for over 300 yards in 14 consecutive games.
Graham’s quarterbacks have outproduced Pittsburgh’s in four of the past five years. They have thrown for 5,933 more yards and 91 more touchdowns since 2006. Never has a Pitt quarterback thrown for more touchdowns than Graham quarterback. When comparing Pitt’s best QB (Bill Stull 2009) to Tulsa’s worst (Kinne 2009) over the past four years, the Golden Hurricane’s gunslinger still finishes one touchdown and 99 yards better.
The massive gap in production cannot be attributed to the ease of Conference USA competition either. Pitt landed a top-two recruiting class in the Big East each year from 2005 to 2008. Between the four classes, seven offensive skill position players were drafted into the NFL. Also, every Panthers class has ranked inside Rivals’ top 50 since 2005 (excluding this year’s).
During the same time frame, neither Tulsa nor Rice pulled in a top-50 class. Smith and Johnson, who combined for 9,124 yards during their senior years, only had three offers between them. Two of those offers were from Tulsa. Yet, four out of the past five seasons Graham’s offenses have finished with more total yards than Pitt’s. The Panthers also were swept by Graham’s teams in all four major categories (passing, rushing, pass TD’s, and rush TD’s) three times in the past five years.
Unfortunately for Graham, much of his success above has been linked to Gus Malzahn. Tulsa’s most productive years came in 2007 and 2008 were under the direction of the now Auburn Offensive Coordinator.
Again, fans do not realize how independent Graham has been. He turned a 1-8 Rice team into a 7-5 Bowl team in one season. He also finished last year with the eighth most productive offense. Both, the Malzahn-led Auburn offense and Graham-led Tulsa unit averaged 41 points per contest last season.
Graham’s name has been synonymous with top-flight offenses with or without Malzahn. Expect little to change this season at Pitt.