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Lack of running game hurting Panthers

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Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the season, Pitt's biggest strength was arguably its running game. Led by All-American candidate James Conner, the unit was expected to do great things with him and a pair of four-star recruits. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that hasn't been the case. The most recent outing included a disappointing 55-yard effort against Iowa on Saturday night in the team's first loss of the season.

The season-ending injury to backup Rachid Ibrahim in training camp seemed to be a bump in the road. The big blow came when Conner was taken out in the team's opener against Youngstown State and was ruled to be likely out for the season.

At the time that he went down, many of us expected the team to be able to carry on. The team had returning backup Chris James, true freshman Darrin Hall, and Qadree Ollison, after all. The notion that Pitt would be fine in the backfield was strengthened by Ollison's monster 207-yard game after Conner went down against Youngstown State. In the two games since, however, the running game has been a work in progress.

James, also injured in that game, has been limited, with only two carries (for zero yards) since then. Ollison has come back to earth with only 98 yards in the past two games. Hall, also has been pretty mediocre with a pedestrian 90 yards against Akron and Iowa. Add it all up, and the trio has accounted for a weak 3.5 yards-per-carry average.

A big question, too, is the health of the backs. James missed the Akron game completely and had only two carries against Iowa. Ollison had a few times in the Akron game where he needed some time off the field. Frankly, the bye week next weekend comes at a good time for the backs to get healthy.

As I said in the aftermath of the Iowa game, the good thing is that they won't face many run defenses like they did against the Hawkeyes, who rank in the top ten in the nation. But there should be very real concerns about the unit going forward and if Pitt is to succeed, it won't be with a pass-heavy offense. The Panthers and quarterback Nathan Peterman need a strong running game to win games going forward.

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