SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame will still have to deal with two of Pittsburgh’s top offensive players and the team’s top kick returner when the No. 4 Irish (8-0) play host to the Panthers (4-4) today, despite the three players’ legal issues.
Starting running back Ray Graham, receiver Devin Street and freshman defensive back Lafayette Pitts are being charged with simple assault and conspiracy in connection with an incident involving three other Pittsburgh students Oct. 21.
The Panthers players were charged in a complaint filed by city police Thursday. The three players have not been arrested but will receive summonses by mail telling them to report to court Jan. 9 for a preliminary hearing, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
We take matters of player discipline very seriously and will continue to cooperate with any investigation, Pittsburgh said in a statement posted on its athletic website. However, we will not, and hope others will not, rush to judgment on these misdemeanor allegations. All three players will remain active members of our program while we gain more clarity on this situation.
Street is the Panthers’ leading receiver with 50 catches for 695 yards and four scores, and Pitts has a team-high 472 kickoff return yards.
Graham, a senior, is part of the Panthers’ dangerous running game along with freshman Rushel Shell.
One is a speedster guy. He can hit the hole inside. He can bounce out. And another guy is kind of ram it down your throat, Irish defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore said. It is going to be very difficult preparing for two running backs.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Graham is the quicker of the two running backs despite suffering an ACL injury that ended his season last year after eight games. This season, he has run for 622 yards with seven touchdowns, and he factors into the passing game, catching 22 passes for 244 yards with two touchdowns.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Shell is the power back. He has run for 441 yards with four touchdowns this year.
They have arguably two of the better running backs that we’ll see, coach Brian Kelly said. They’ve got a one-two punch there.
The Irish have been able to counter opponents’ running game punch this year.
Notre Dame comes into today’s game as the ninth-best rushing defense, giving up 95.3 yards per game, and it has allowed only one rushing touchdown this season.
We have a great physical defense, and we are not going to let anybody run on us, linebacker Carlo Calabrese said. Our coaches are doing a great job of putting us where we need to be. We are listening to our coaches and doing what they tell us to do, and that is helping us in the run game.
If your defense is controlling the line of scrimmage and they are not running, it’s pretty bad for the offense and their ego in the game.