- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Dion Lewis hasn't looked like himself yet in 2010.
The Pittsburgh star, who was the Big East's offensive player of the year in 2009 after running for 1,799 yards, has only 102 total yards in two games this season. On Saturday against New Hampshire, he managed just 27 rushing yards. He's averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.
Reason for concern? Not for head coach Dave Wannstedt.
Wannstedt said Monday that there's nothing wrong with Lewis and that his sophomore was his usual brilliant self in preseason practice. Instead, he thinks it's more about the new starters at the three interior offensive line spots, tight end and quarterback.
"Defenses are zeroing in on him," Wannstedt said. "It's not going to be easy any week. It's not going to be any different.
"I think last year with having a more veteran quarterback in Billy Stull, we had ... more of a better passing-game attack. Teams probably respected Dion and honored him, but I don't think they were willing to sell out and say, 'OK, we're going to stop the run. If you can beat us throwing the ball, go ahead.' We've gotten a little more of that early on because of inexperience."
Oddly, though, backup Ray Graham hasn't experienced the same problems. Graham, who did not receive any carries in the Utah game because of a knee injury, gained 115 yards on nine attempts Saturday against New Hampshire. He is the team's leading rusher despite playing one fewer game than Lewis.
Wannstedt said the Panthers changed some of their running calls in the second half last weekend to adjust to New Hampshire's defense, and that's where some of Graham's success came from.
Pitt will also have to keep defenses honest with the passing game to alleviate pressure on Lewis, and that's what happened last weekend. Tino Sunseri threw 34 passes, and the Panthers actually had more passing attempts (37) than running plays (35) in the game.
The one thing Wannstedt knows he doesn't have to worry about is Lewis's attitude. Even during his sensational freshman season, Lewis never got caught up in the excitement.
"That's what separates Dion Lewis from most other players," Wannstedt said. "He is such a high-character, solid individual. He is looking forward to a good week. He's ready to go, and he's focused on what he has to do and what he needs to accomplish and improve on. That's what makes him a special guy."