After a Week 1 win against Villanova, Pitt returns to Heinz Field to face longtime rival Penn State on Saturday. While the Panthers are favored, the game is expected to be a tight one.
That’s one of the reasons the running game could be a focal point with each team potentially looking to control the clock.
Sure, both teams will air it out some. But with shaky passing attacks, you can expect each to work to break down opposing defenses with the run. That’s particularly true given that each team has a strong rushing offense.
For Pitt, there’s James Conner, who returned for the win against Villanova. As Pat Narduzzi mentioned in his post-game press conference, the offensive line needed to do a better job of opening holes up for him. Conner scored two touchdowns but also had a below-average 3.1 yards per carry on his way to a 53-yard day.
There’s more to the Panthers than simply him, though. Pitt also has last year’s ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison, who fared a little better with seven carries for 30 yards. Darrin Hall will also get into the action - though, he had only six carries for 13 yards on Saturday against the Wildcats. Rachid Ibrahim and true freshman Chawntez Moss are also there, but did not play Saturday.
None of Pitt’s backs had huge days against Villanova, but all are capable of much more and there’s no doubt that the strength of the team is in the backfield.
That’s the case for Penn State as well. Saquon Barkley is the star of the offense after a strong freshman year with 1,076 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Against Kent State on Saturday, he ran for 105 yards with a touchdown. Unlike Pitt, which utilized several guys ,he was the sole back to register any carries.
Last season, Barkley was the team’s feature back as well with no other rushers gaining even 300 yards. His seven touchdowns were the most rushing or receiving of any Nittany Lions player and he also caught 20 passes out of the backfield. In other words, you can bet that Penn State will be looking to use him quite a bit.
Both teams have capable receivers, but there’s a good chance that the rushing games will determine the winner.