Bulls, Bears & Panthers is a weekly column that brings the buzz of Wall Street to Forbes and Fifth. Well...minus the suspenders. In all seriousness, this is our weekly analysis of Pitt football’s stock. Each week during the season, I take a look back at the Panthers’ most recent game and select a Bull (a player, coach etc. which is upward trending) and a Bear (a player, coach etc. which is downward trending). Believe me, this is always lots of fun because just like in the stock market, in college football, you never quite know what a new day will bring.
After three straight wins and a bye week, Pitt's stock was holding steady heading into the weekend in Blacksburg. Unfortunately with a deflating loss against the Hokies, Pitt's stock deflates this week too. Now, Virginia Tech was a nine-point favorite so Saturday's loss isn't devastating by any means. It's more a disappointment and definitely a question-raiser moving forward. This week's bull and bear are:
Bull (upward trending): Aaron Donald
The Panthers' star defensive tackle had a huge game on Saturday, registering six tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for losses. On the year, Donald is the national leader in both sacks and tackles for loss per game. He's also college football's current career sack leader with 26.5 over the course of his career.
Man, those numbers are just stunning to me. They really underscore how dangerous Donald is to opposing offenses and how talented he is nationally. In fact, he gained some nice accolades this week.
National media outlets are releasing their midseason all-star teams this week and Donald is receiving prominent mention. The senior was named a Midseason All-American by both CBSSports.com and ESPN.com today.
Moreover, ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach rated Donald one of the nation’s Top 5 defensive players of the season’s first half.
Donald's stock has been high for a long time. He's a known asset for this team. But, with some positive attention this week following a big game, his value continues to climb.
Bear (downward trending): The Running Game
Regrettably there was no shortage of bears this week. The running backs, the offensive line, Tom Savage...they could all fit the bill. Two weeks ago, I called out the offensive line. They were bad again on Saturday, but an even bigger area of concern for me is the running back situation.
Before getting knocked out with an injury, James Conner had just a yard on two carries. After he left the game, Isaac Bennett and Rachid Ibrahim combined for an uninspiring 48 yards on 12 carries. Yuck. Over the past two games, this negative trend seems to be developing.
Yes, Pitt is 3-2, but those numbers are not nearly as meaningful as these: 21 and 64. Those two are hurtful.
The first is the number of times quarterback Tom Savage has been sacked. The second is the total yards gained by Pitt's two best running backs — James Conner and Isaac Bennett — in the past two games.
Look, we knew running back was going to be a question mark coming into this year. After a few good games, Conner looked comfortable with the starting role and all seemed well. But, his momentum appears to have stalled, and for the time, the options behind Conner don't look too strong. We'll see how this plays out - some tweaks to the offensive line are probably in order - but Pitt's running game is seeing its stock dive this week.