Pitt had a lot of highlights on Saturday against Rice. Afterwards in his press conference, head coach Pat Narduzzi and some of the players talked about the glaring weakness - the running game.
"We gotta get a run game going," said Narduzzi, before adding, "We rushed for 69 yards - that ain't good."
The Panthers' running game was slowed most of the day. As I wrote in the recap, the running game was a little better as the team was credited with -22 yards due to four sacks quarterback Max Browne took. But the trio of Chawntez Moss, Qadree Ollison, and A.J. Davis struggled for sure. Collectively, they had 22 attempts and only 45 yards.
Moss talked about the constant struggle as well and he indicated that Pitt simply wasn't ready for some of the things thrown at them defensively.
"They had called a couple good defensive plays," the running back said. "They were shooting some guys through some gaps, that we had never seen them do on film. It was stuff that we had not game planned for."
I know that quote is going to cause some concern for a few folks, but the reality is that coaches can't prepare for everything - especially if those things aren't on film. Just as Pitt saved things against Penn State and will do later in the year, all teams are going to throw new wrinkles at opposing coaches.
The running game not only struggled to gain yardage but they also had a costly turnover. With Pitt ahead 21-0, Moss fumbled the ball at the goal line as the Panthers had a chance to extend their lead. Fortunately, it didn't cost Pitt as Rice was forced to punt and the Panthers scored on the next drive to take the 28-0 lead. But Pitt won't always be so lucky and, in a close game, that could have been a killer.
One thing to remember here is that, as Narduzzi said after the game, Rice really sold out to stop the run at all costs. They really came in wanting to force Pitt to throw the ball and they did that. Now that Pitt showed some ability to pass, maybe that prevents other teams from stacking the box against the run as much as Rice did.
I'm not sure the running game will get better, to be honest. If you can't move the ball on the ground against a team like Rice, I'm not sure that you'll be able to do that against ACC competition. That's especially true if George Aston can't get back onto the field as he suffered another injury on Saturday. But if Pitt is able to continue throwing the ball, hopefully that opens some things up for the backs.