A host of Pitt Panthers stood out in their 28-7 victory yesterday over Villanova. Linebacker Mike Caprara and Avonte Maddox each recorded two sacks, while tight end Scott Orndoff led the team with 68 yards receiving with six catches. A couple of them were of the big-play variety to pick up key first downs for Pitt. Finally, a great case could be made for Quadree Henderson put up a nice kickoff and punt return while catching four balls. One put six on the board for the Panthers and the latter set up a Pitt touchdown. However, only one player could have been our Panther of the Game for Saturday in his return to the field: James Conner.
I think, by now, everyone is aware of Conner’s story. Coming off of a knee injury and a bout with cancer, the Erie, PA native hit the field for the first time since the 2015 opener. His stats weren’t very Conner like, but the effort was very familiar. The redshirt junior ran for 53 yards and added on another 16 yards receiving on a career-high three catches and found the end zone two times. His second touchdown of the game was a nifty catch in between about three Villanova defenders at the goal line to lift Pitt to a 14-0 lead right before intermission.
The running back may not have had many plays that he’ll add to his career highlight film, but just getting on the field was a major step. With everything he went through in the past year, I’m not sure we could have even went with another player if Conner only recorded one carry for one yard. But with the two touchdowns on Saturday, he was worthy of our pick, anyway.
With Conner’s feet wet and getting the first hits recorded and his first stiff arm landing on a defender, we’ll see if he’s able to build on this game. If the offense gets a little more diverse, as it should moving forward, that will help open things up for the running game and Conner. I’m sure we’ll see a rise in numbers once the offensive play calling goes a little deeper.