James Conner is off to an amazing start in the 2014 season. The sophomore back ranks second nationally with 874 yards through six games. He is tied for third in rushing touchdowns with nine, and overall his numbers have him ranked among the likes of national stars like Ameer Abdullah, Melvin Gordon, and Todd Gurley. Conner has already surpassed his 2013 rushing total and we are only at the halfway point. He pretty much has entrenched himself as the starter for as long as he is a Panther, and has put to rest any moving to defense rumors.
The interesting thing about Conner is that he has been held under 100 yards over the past two games and still ranks so highly nationally. Conner is a powerful back, but not one likely to break a ton of runs to the outside. His vision is good, but he is better served running through people rather than around them. It leads us to this interesting stat, Chris James had two carries for 18 yards in the Virginia game, and showed an amazing burst on the one run. Isaac Bennett dashed through the heart of a tough UVA defense for 23 yards, and even came up with one of the catches for the year for this Pitt team on a crucial third down. But that was it for those two players, and that doesn't even account for Rachid Ibrahim only getting one touch after posting 50 yards of total offense the week prior. Pitt had some success with other guys, but abandoned using them too soon.
It is simple right now, Pitt has a bulldozing back that is among the nation's leading rushers. He deserves at least 20 carries a game, and he sets the tone for what this offense wants to accomplish. Still, defenses know that. The play calling has been predictable and it's left James Conner taking a beating from 8,9, even all 11 guys in the box. Pitt has the ability to shake things up, and help open things up for Conner, but also for Voytik and the passing game. Rachid Ibrahim has great speed, and offers a good set of hands in the passing game. Chris James has good burst, and is definitely capable of 8-10 touches himself. We saw Bennett make some great plays last week too, and his veteran presence is a factor.
I think James Conner is a great back, but sometimes he can be slowed down due to his lack of speed and predictable play calling. Pitt is struggling on offense right now, and perhaps mixing in different personnel is the answer to help open things up a little more. Chryst has built a strong stable of running backs, and maybe it is time to use all the horses in a game.