Notebook: Walker stars in place of Miree
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Pitt senior tailback Brandon Miree had hoped to face his former coach, Dennis Franchione, when the Panthers and Texas A&M met Saturday at Kyle Field, but a calf injury kept him out of the game.
Turns out, Miree’s understudy proved more than capable. Sophomore Jawan Walker made his first career start and finished with 87 yards on 20 carries, including 65 on 11 attempts during the pivotal second half, which saw the Panthers turn a 13-9 halftime deficit into a 37-26 victory.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Walker said, despite Texas A&M’s contingent of maroon-clad crazies. “I’ve played in games before. I just did what I had to do, got in synch after the first half, and we put it together.”
Walker is expected to give way to Miree when the Panthers (3-1) return for a game with Notre Dame on Oct. 11.
“Brandon would be ready (today) if we needed him,” coach Walt Harris said. “We just didn’t want to take a chance.”
Make no mistake, Pitt senior quarterback Rod Rutherford has the luxury of throwing to arguably the best wideout in the nation in Larry Fitzgerald, but it’s still hard to overlook his numbers.
He went 14 of 28 for 283 yards with a career-high five touchdowns and one interception. He hit Fitzgerald with a game-securing 49-yarder to give the Panthers a 37-20 lead with 56 seconds left in the third quarter.
Rutherford has 16 touchdowns with only three interceptions this season and 23 touchdowns with just five picks the past eight games. He is 74 of 120 for 1,171 yards.
Rutherford bounced back from a difficult first half, during which he threw an interception on first-and-goal from the Texas A&M 8 and Pitt leading 9-7. Texas A&M drove for a field goal on the ensuing drive, for a 10-point swing in the Aggies favor.
“He never got down,” Harris said. “That tells you why he’s been so successful.”
Punter Andy Lee and kickoff specialist Adam Graessle were stellar for the Panthers. Lee averaged 45.3 yards on six punts, including a 58-yarder, and six of Graessle’s seven kickoffs went for touchbacks.
“That is huge,” Harris said. “They were on top of it all game.”
Freshman middle linebacker Clint Session took over for the Pitt defense in the second quarter when senior Lewis Moore went out with an undisclosed injury. Session had 17 tackles, including four solos, and had two tackles for losses.
“I couldn’t let my teammates down,” the hard-hitter from Florida said.
With guard Matt Maiers out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and center Justin Belarski still hobbled from a right leg injury, the Pitt offensive line continues to have a makeshift look. The Panthers started regular right guard Jon Schall at center for Belarski and moved John Simonitis into Schall’s right-guard spot for the second straight week. Dan LaCarte returned to his spot at left guard after playing sparingly the previous week.
Fitzgerald and Princell Brockenbrough each had more than 100 yards receiving, the first time that’s happened since Kris Wilson and Antonio Bryant did it in 2001. … Pitt is 9-3 in its last 12 road games. … Fitzgerald moved into 10th on Pitt’s career receptions list with 101. … Brian Bennett and Malcolm Postell started at the strongside and weakside linebacker spots, respectively. They were listed as co-starters with J.J. Horne and H.B. Blades.