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Freshman V’Lique Carter Stars in Pitt Debut

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NCAA Football: Duke at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In Pitt’s 54-45 win over Duke on Saturday, the surprise of the contest was a breakout performance by true freshman V’Lique Carter.

Carter was a defensive back but also cited as both a running back and wide receiver after yesterday’s game. No one really knows what to make of his position and that probably even includes the coaches to a degree. Whatever the case, you can expect to see more of him, as Pat Narduzzi mentioned afterwards.

“He’s fast,” Narduzzi said. “Obviously he’ll get a few more carries next week.”

How fast? Fast enough to pick up 137 yards and two touchdowns on only seven carries, giving him a 19.6 yard-per-carry average. That’s typically something you see from return men, not running backs or whatever it is we’re calling Carter these days.

Pitt recruited him as a defensive back but has been using him as a running back on the scout team. The conclusion they came to is that he’s too good in that role and that they need to work him into games. While his exact position might not be defined, for now, Narduzzi says he’s staying on offense.

“He’s a player on offense right now,” Narduzzi added. “That’s where he’ll stay right now.” Asked after the game if he would be an offensive or defensive player going forward, Carter himself was non-committal, only deferring to Narduzzi.

Now, I mentioned yesterday that part of his problem to getting onto the field is that he’s somewhat blocked by Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall, and Maurice Ffrench, who does similar things in the ground game. But when you perform as well as Carter did, there’s simply no way to keep him off the field. Part of the reason he’s not been seen yet is that he’s sort of been saved for conference play.

“We’ve been thinking about it for a while here,” Narduzzi said. “Kind of saved it a little bit for the ACC play.”

At first glance, his insertion sort of causes a dilemma for Pitt. Yesterday was his first game of the year and freshmen can play four games and still keep their redshirt. Pitt has four regular season games left so if Carter plays in all four, his redshirt is gone.

But Pitt could also play in a bowl game or even the ACC championship game and I believe those all count towards the allotment. So, even if Pitt would manage to sit him a game, if they want to use him in a postseason game, he would lose the redshirt, anyway. Pitt’s chances of reaching a bowl game went up yesterday with the win against Duke, so my guess is the redshirt will be gone.

That’s a small price to pay, though, if he helps Pitt reach a bowl game and an ACC title game. And as I said yesterday, the concern can’t be to hold him over just to keep his redshirt. Plus, not to get ahead of ourselves, but as we’ve seen with other players that left school early, keeping players’ redshirts intact doesn’t always mean you’ll have them on the field for three years after that.

Now, while Carter looked great, keep in mind that Duke was not gameplanning for him as future opponents will be. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak, and teams will be looking for him once he gets onto the field. Does that mean he won’t make plays? Of course not. But those plays are probably going to be more difficult to make now that teams will be watching for him.

Pitt fans should know all about that, obviously. The Panthers ran all over Penn State in 2016, catching them off guard with an offense they weren’t prepared to see. The following year when Pitt tried many of those same types of plays, they weren’t effective. I expect teams will be a little more prepared to slow down Carter going forward.

I’m not trying to be a killjoy here but it is going to be very difficult for him to have the same kind of days he did yesterday. Part of that is not only the lack of surprise factor but also because the Panthers still have some tougher competition ahead with Miami, Virginia Tech, and a surprising Virginia team. It’s pretty clear, however, that the kid brings a lot of speed and he’s going to, at the very least, continue to make some plays out there.

Nevertheless, it looks like Pitt has another weapon to use and that’s welcome news for an offense that has struggled quite a bit at times this year. If he produces even a little of what he did against Duke, that could go a long way to helping the team reach the postseason.

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