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Weak running game contributes to Panthers' problems against Miami in loss

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt's problems were many on Saturday in the team's 51-28 loss on the road against Miami. The Panthers struggled on both sides of the ball and on offense, that included the running game.

Pitt has made a living out of running the ball effectively this season. The Panthers' 231.8 yards on the ground were good for 25th in the nation and third in the ACC (behind only Louisville and Georgia Tech, which is an option team that will always rack up yardage). But on Saturday, the team found little room to run against the Hurricanes.

On the day, the Panthers mustered only 130 total rushing yards, a little more than half of their average. That was the lowest output all season, outside of the team's opener against Villanova when, as we've recognized since then, the team didn't show very much offensively. James Conner led the team, but did so with only 40 yards on 12 attempts.

Much of the reason for the low yardage was that the team was playing catchup most of the day. Plus, quarterback Nathan Peterman was able to throw the ball on Miami, with nearly 300 yards through the air and two touchdowns. If you add in the long dropped pass by Jester Weah that likely would have went for a touchdown, he would have had an even bigger day.

However, the team didn't only fail to run the ball very much. When they did run it, they simply weren't all that effective. Darrin Hall provided a spark with a pair of rushes for 27 yards and Henderson broke free for a 22-yard run. But outside of him, the team struggled. Conner averaged only 3.3 yards per attempt. The other backs, Qadree Ollison and Chawntez Moss, combined with fullback George Aston and specialist Maurice Ffrench, totaled six carries for a single yard.

It wasn't only the total, either. The running game had problems on some very key individual plays, too.

Henderson, taking a handoff just after halftime, fumbled the ball, setting Miami up for an easy touchdown a few plays later. Two drives later, desperately needing a touchdown and with a 1st and goal on the Hurricanes' six-yard line, Conner and Aston both lost yardage on consecutive plays, setting up a Nathan Peterman interception. And late in the game when Pitt was trying to make a comeback, Conner failed on a 3rd and 2, forcing Pitt to punt the ball away, effectively ending the game. Those three plays were all crucial to the team and contributed significantly to the loss.

Now, Pitt did mix in the regular shovel passes, which were essentially modified runs, and had some success there. But in terms of an actual ground attack, that was something the Panthers lacked all day. And while part of it was playing behind, part of it was what they did with the ball in those key situations I mentioned above.

It was good to see Pitt's passing game be a little more effective but on days when the running game takes a back seat to that, the backs need to do more.

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