For much of the season, Pitt's running game has been in flux.
James Conner suffered a season-ending injury in the team's opener. Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison both picked up starts in his absence, but Hall missed the team's last game against Virginia Tech with a leg injury himself. Last year's backup Chris James has battled a concussion sustained earlier in the season and has missed time. Now, though, it appears like someone has finally taken hold of the job.
Ollison, who started the last game, has been the team's best rusher all year. This week when the official depth chart was released, he sat atop it without the familiar 'OR' designation used when players are battling for a spot.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi talked a little bit about him in the press conference this week. "I think he got a bigger footprint there at the tailback spot because of what he did," said Narduzzi. "I have to think, ‘What is his style?' Qadree tends to dance around instead of just hitting it up in the there. When he hits it up there, on that fourth and one, and not stuttering his feet—that's not a slashing back, that's a big bruising back. He can play like that once it becomes a habit because that's how tailbacks run. I think he may have figured that out. Hopefully he can just get downhill and run."
Ollison, of course, deserves it at this point. He ran for 207 yards in his debut against Youngstown State. And while he was held relatively in check in games against Akron and Iowa, he had another big game this weekend against Virginia Tech, rushing for 122 yards on only 19 carries for a gaudy 6.4 yards per carry. Ollison also made some huge plays in that contest, with 43-yard and 25-yard runs (the latter going for a touchdown) coming out of halftime.
His case is just the latest to prove that even players buried on the depth chart need to be ready at any given time. Coming out of training camp where he had missed a good chunk of time due to injury, by all indications, he was fourth on the depth chart. If Rachid Ibrahim hadn't been injured, he could have even been fifth. But after Ibrahim went down with a season-ending injury in camp, Conner followed suit in the opener. Then Chris James suffered an injury in that game. That opened the door, helping pave the way for Ollison to not only play but become the starter.
On the season, the redshirt freshman has piled up 427 yards and three rushing touchdowns. His 7.1 yard-per-carry average stands out, too, serving as proof of his many big gains. I don't see him maintaining that average the rest of the season as the competition gets stiffer, but to date, despite some ups and downs, Ollison has performed well. Pitt needs to get Darrin Hall and Chris James fully healthy and get them some carries, too. But for now, Ollison is the man in Pitt's backfield.
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