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Pitt has depth at running back to combat James Conner injury

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Monday's news about a season-ending injury for Pitt star running back James Conner was a devastating hit to the team. About the only good news that the Panthers can take away from it is that it comes at a position of depth.

While it's true that Pitt has also lost backup Rachid Ibrahim for the season during training camp, the program still has quality replacements at the position.

At the forefront of those may actually be the team's No. 3 running back, redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison. Ollison stepped into duty after Conner came out of Saturday's game against Youngstown State and put on a dominant performance, racking up 207 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries for a gaudy 12.9 yard-per-carry average. He may not sit atop this week's depth chart but will get plenty of touches.

The man backing up Conner all of last year, sophomore Chris James, is also there. James himself was a little banged up this weekend, but seven carries for 32 yards and a 4.6 yard-per-carry average. James was a solid backup to Conner last year as a true freshman, picking up 437 yards (5.0 yards per carry) in limited action. There's still a good chance he gets first crack at the starting job, despite Ollison's monster game on Saturday.

As a one-two punch, many schools would feel good with that pair. Pitt also has a third guy that will receive carries in true freshman Darrin Hall. Hall was a four-star recruit that earned playing time right away with a strong training camp. He was used sparingly in the team's opener this past weekend, but that will likely change as he becomes the unquestioned third guy in the rotation.

The questions that will follow, of course, will be justified. The trio is young and outside of James, pretty inexperienced. Further, as I pointed out earlier, it isn't realistic to expect to get as much out of Ollison as the team did this weekend. The Conner injury isn't good news for Pitt - there's no doubt that this is a tough loss. To paint it as largely insignificant because of the depth isn't accurate because he's a proven commodity.

But the Panthers still have more quality depth behind him than most teams and with Ollison's strong game on Saturday, there's reason to believe that they have enough to get through this.

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