PITTSBURGH – Ray Graham rushed for two touchdowns and caught another as Pittsburgh rolled over Temple 47-17 on Saturday.
The senior running back finished with 180 yards of total offense — 109 rushing and 71 receiving — as the Panthers finally broke through after starting their last season in the Big East with three straight losses.
Rushel Shell added 79 yards rushing and a score for Pitt (4-4, 1-3), which drummed the Owls with ease. Quarterback Tino Sunseri passed for 321 yards and three scores while the defense kept Temple (3-4, 2-2) under wraps until the game was well in hand.
Montel Harris ran for 72 yards and a touchdown for the Owls, but Temple simply couldn't keep pace during a first half in which the Panthers built a 24-point lead.
First-year Pitt coach Paul Chryst urged his players to attack the Owls with a sense of urgency following a lethargic victory against Buffalo last week and the Panthers responded with perhaps their most dominant performance of the season.
Not surprisingly, Graham led the charge.
A year removed from a torn ACL in his right knee that cut short his junior season, Graham rolled through the Big East's seventh-ranked defense as Pitt won its first conference game in almost 11 months.
Temple did its best to give the Panthers a lift. The Owls stuffed Pitt on the game's opening possession, but Temple gave it right back when the ensuing punt glanced off Anthony Robey and Pitt's Eric Williams fell on it at the Temple 39.
Seven plays later, the Panthers were in front when Shell bulled over from a yard out, and Pitt was just getting started. Sunseri capped a 90-yard drive the next time the Panthers had the ball with an 18-yard strike to J.P. Holtz. Graham accounted for 50 yards on the drive, including a 33-yard screen pass that put the Owls on their heels.
Temple responded by pulling within 14-7 on Chris Coyer's 9-yard touchdown pass to Cody Booth, but it was merely a speed bump for Pitt, which showcased just how far it has come under Chryst.
The Panthers started the season with losses to FCS member Youngstown State and Cincinnati. Pitt barely looked competitive against the Bearcats and uncertain of itself.
Six weeks later, Pitt is humming. That crispness was never more evident than in the second quarter, when the Panthers scored 17 points to grab control.
Graham walked in from 1 yard out to put Pitt up 24-7 with 2:32 to go in the half and the Panthers forced Temple to punt, getting the ball back at the Pitt 38 with 1:09 to go before the break.
The two-minute offense had been a major issue for the Panthers earlier in the season. Not on Saturday. Sunseri guided Pitt 62 yards in six plays. He hit Devin Street for a key 35-yard gain, then found Graham in the flat for a 4-yard touchdown pass that put the Panthers in charge 31-7.
The score capped a nightmarish 60 minutes of football for the Owls, who had been a pleasant surprise in their return to the Big East after getting kicked out nearly a decade ago.
Temple actually led unbeaten Rutgers 10-0 at the half last week before getting blown out 35-10. Coach Steve Addazio blamed it on the roller coaster that comes with having a young team.
The ride took a significant dip against the Panthers. Though the Owls steadied themselves in the second half, they never got closer than 17 while Pitt resurrected its hopes of making a bowl game for the fifth straight season.
Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP