For much of the season, Pitt backup running back Chris James has been an afterthought. As I wrote earlier in the week, Qadree Ollison had taken hold of the starting running back job and had made a pretty convincing case that he should be the guy.
Ollison may still be the team's starter but James is, at the very least, throwing his hat in the ring for more carries.
James got off to a rocky start this season, suffering an injury and concussion. His play heading into Saturday was sporadic. James picked up some carries in the opener after James Conner went down with an injury, but he was banged up there and didn't finish the game. He didn't play the following week against Akron and was used sparingly against Iowa (two carries). He did return last week, recording five carries but had only six total yards on the ground.
Then came Saturday.
Against Virginia on Homecoming, the true sophomore had easily one of the biggest games of his young career. James toted the ball only 11 times but still picked up 94 yards and averaged 8.4 yards per carry. 48 of those yards came on a single run with James nearly getting into the end zone, taking the ball to the Virginia 11-yard line.
We've seen from his play last year that he is a capable back. His performance today only reminded us of that and should give him a look at more carries. Just as important was that Ollison struggled on Saturday, with a modest 49 yards on 13 carries good for a 3.8 yard-per-carry average. Ollison did score a touchdown but also gave a second away on his crucial goal-line fumble. That marks his second fumble in as many weeks and while it didn't cost Pitt the game, it has to lessen the grip he has on the starting job.
I'm not convinced that James was ever written off despite the emergence of Ollison in the opener and his big game last week. Rather, I think a lot of it was just about James getting healthy and getting more opportunities.
Regardless of which guy gets/keeps the job, getting James back is big. As I said earlier in the week, it gives Pitt another option for a back if/when Ollison struggles. The running game clicking is so important to quarterback Nathan Peterman and it was good to get James back today in a big role.