Bulls, Bears & Panthers is a weekly column that brings the buzz of Wall Street to Forbes and Fifth. Well…I’ll do what I can. 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.
The Panthers' volatile, enigmatic season continued on Saturday with an ugly loss to the Tarheels of North Carolina. After getting blown out in the first half, Pitt miraculously came back to tie it in the fourth quarter before losing it on a disastrous special teams fail. The loss put the team at 5-5 and delayed bowl eligibility at least another week. A disappointing, yet very Pitt-like, loss all around. This week's bull and bear are as follows:
Bull (upward trending): James Conner
After basically disappearing for the middle part of the season, the freshman running back turned in a solid performance and once again made the case that he's best back on the team. Conner rushed for 102 yards on 19 carries (5.4 yards/carry) and a touchdown. Isaac Bennett meanwhile continued to unimpress putting up just 26 yards on 12 carries.
I've liked Conner from the get-go and it was clear to me early on that he was the best running back on the roster. The New Mexico and Old Dominion games aside, Bennett has been very pedestrian all year while Conner has put up impressive numbers multiple times. On the season he has 4.8 yards per carry and 7 touchdowns, numbers which project him to finish well ahead of where Rushel Shell was last year. At least for the rest of this season, Conner should be the Panthers' top running back. His stock is up.
Bear (downward trending): Special Teams
I mean really, is this even a question? When I watched the replay on Sunday of Ryan Switzer's game winning punt return, the rest of my day suddenly became gloomier. Such a horrible play, it's almost a joke. Special teams has been a weak spot for Paul Chryst's team all year and it ended up losing Saturday's game.
One thing that will be interesting in the offseason is to see whether Chryst names a special teams coach since he currently doesn't have one. This is an area where the Panthers have been haunted in the past (see: Cincinnati 2009) and it's one that can quickly ruin an otherwise great game. Individually, Matt Yoklic and Chris Blewitt have been decent this year, but the punt and kick coverage has been questionable. Without a doubt, it needs to be cleaned up going forward.