Big East has some of top runners in country
The league has a rich history of players running up big numbers. Amos Zereoue, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee, William Green, Ray Rice, Steve Slaton, Donald Brown, Dion Lewis and others have taken turns at running into the record books.
''Yeah, that was put into play as I was being recruited,'' Pead said. ''Not necessarily what team I wanted to play for, but what backfield I wanted to play in and what playmakers were in the backfield. Cincinnati had a few. Of course, West Virginia always does. And Pittsburgh and Louisville and everyone.
''We do hold up our end - I'm speaking of running backs as a whole.''
Holding up quite well so far.
Two games into the season, the Big East has some of the country's top backs. Pead is averaging 11.5 yards per carry, the most on the nation among backs with 20 attempts. Pittsburgh's Ray Graham leads the nation with an average of 161 yards per game. Connecticut redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs has a pair of 100-yard games as a fill-in.
A conference that returned its top six quarterbacks this season is watching a handful of runners put sizzle in the offense, led by the junior in Pittsburgh.
''Having a guy like Ray - we sometimes hand the ball off to him and we're fundamentally messing up and missing blocks and he makes you miss and makes yards,'' first-year Pitt coach Todd Graham said. ''He's got a chance to be one of the best in the country. Absolutely that is something that gives you a great deal of comfort, knowing you've got a guy like that in the backfield.''
The Panthers' passing game has struggled early as it adapts to a new system. Graham ran for 121 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-29 win over Maine last week that was much closer than expected.
Like all good running backs, Graham is quick to share the credit with those who created the small holes he needs.
''I might be the one scoring the touchdowns, but were all doing this together,'' the running back said.
Pead has pulled off some of the most amazing runs. He ran 40 yards for a touchdown on Cincinnati's first play in a lopsided win over Austin Peay, and scored on a 65-yard run the first time he touched the ball in a lopsided loss at Tennessee. The senior ran for 155 yards against the Volunteers.
''Any long run is a special moment,'' Pead said. ''You live for those as a home-run hitter, so to say. In the locker room, the linemen said, `You want to score on the first play again?' I said, `If you want me to, I'm down for it.' And it happened.''
McCombs has been the biggest surprise out of a Big East backfield. The redshirt freshman was upgraded to starter after senior D.J. Shoemate was injured in practice a few days before the opener. McCombs has a pair of 100-yard games, is averaging 129.5 yards per game - 12th in the nation - and has scored four touchdowns.
''I've been surprised that I've been starting these past two games, definitely,'' McCombs said. ''I guess I'm surprised at the number of carries I'm getting, but as far as the production, I don't know if I'm surprised. I guess it hasn't soaked in yet.''
Shoemate is expected back soon, giving coach Paul Pasqualoni a decision.
''If they're both healthy, we'll play them both,'' he said. ''We'll decide on what the rotation would be as we get to the end of the week. But both would be in the game.''
While those three are doing well, a lot of other Big East teams are running on empty. After Pead's 121 yards per game, the list drops off dramatically.
No. 18 West Virginia has a history of prolific runners - Zereoue and Slaton among them - but is learning a new offense under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen. Freshman Vernard Roberts leads the Mountaineers with only 38 yards per game.
''You've got to get a back that can make some people miss,'' Holgorsen said, ''and you've got to have guys in front that can block people and sustain blocks and guys that can sustain blocks on the perimeter.''
Things are even worse at Rutgers, where Rice ran for 2,012 yards - second-most in league history - in 2007. Rutgers is last in the league in rushing with an average of 69 yards per game. Running back De'Antwan Williams is averaging 29.5 yards per game.
''I think we didn't get into this situation overnight,'' coach Greg Schiano said. ''In 2006-07, yes we had Ray Rice, but we also were great and protecting the passer and really had some good offensive linemen. Then, it gradually declined, bottoming out last year.
''We're going in the right direction. We're getting better. But you don't just snap your fingers and you're back to being No. 1 in the country.''
AP Sports Writers Will Graves in Pittsburgh and Pat Eaton-Robb in East Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.