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Backup running back Chris James held in check after fast start

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In a way, Pitt freshman Chris James has already reached a goal of sorts.

After committing to the Panthers, like most recruits, James said he wanted to contribute to the Panthers right away. Most freshmen don't see the field in their first season and are headed for redshirts. James, though, has not only gotten on the field, but passed up Isaac Bennett for the backup running back spot by the end of training camp.

Through Pitt's first four games, James did some good things. He tallied season-highs of 14 carries and 77 yards against Delaware in the season opener in the midst of a blowout, while scoring two touchdowns. He didn't play against FIU, but totaled ten carries for 39 yards and a touchdown against Boston College and Iowa. In addition, in all three games, James had at least one carry of ten yards or more, and in those three games he got on the field, averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

Since the competition has gotten better, though, James has been slowed down a little bit. He's still getting a handful of carries but not doing as much with them. The fact that he doesn't have a touchdown in the past five games is hardly surprising, considering James Conner gets almost all of the goal line work. But James also isn't breaking any big plays, either - despite having at least one carry of ten yards in each of the first three games, he's had only one such carry, a 15-yard pickup against Virginia, in the past five games combined. Overall, as you would expect with the step up in competition, he's being held more in check.

His yards per carry is also a full yard down since those early games, sitting at 3.8 over the past five contests. The YPC can be explained a little by his big game against Delaware, but it's still a little disappointing to not see him break off any double-digit runs as he did on occasion through the first three games.

And looking at his most recent games, James has struggled even more. In the past three contests against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Duke, James has had 20 carries for only 66 yards - a 3.3 yards per carry average, with a long run of only seven yards.

First things first - we're talking about a small sample size here, so it's nothing to get excited about. In the grand scheme of things, James has had only a total of 48 carries - about the equivalent of a starter's workload over two games.

Plus, a lot of it has to do with rhythm, I'm sure. The problem for James is that it gets so hard to take Conner off the field - particularly when he's running the way he has against Duke. And considering the small amount of work he's had this season, James is still playing fairly well - particularly for a true freshman.

He's in a difficult spot with Conner playing like an All-American and I'm convinced he could start for other teams. Still, it'd be nice to see him break off a longer run here and there, and give Paul Chryst a reason to get him on the field a little more to rest Conner, who has taken a beating this year.

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