Pitt Panthers running back James Conner has certainly been the talk of the town after helping lead the Panthers to a 2-0 start, rushing for 372 yards (second in the nation) and five touchdowns on a mere 50 attempts to start the season.
If you are scoring at home, that’s a 7.3 yards per carry average and an average of 183.5 yards per game, one of the top marks in all of college football.
However the question on everyone’s mind is when will we see Conner play on defense?
That answer should be never.
The fact that Conner played on the defensive side in Pitt’s bowl win last year was a great story. So was the fact that the Panthers prepared to use him on both sides of the ball this season, working him that way during camp.
But some plans need to be scrapped during the season and this is one of them.
It’s not that Conner can’t play on the defensive side of the ball, but what’s the point.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst has himself a stud in the backfield, a true workhorse.
It makes more sense to get every single yard out of him carrying the ball than it does to play him on the defensive side of the ball.
Conner carried the ball 36 times against Boston College and as the ACC games get tougher, while Chryst may not want to hand him the ball that much, it makes a lot of sense to give him a big workload weekly. That’s especially true if he continues to roll in the fashion he has started the season.
Rushing the passer is only going to tire his legs out more and at the end of the day Conner’s true value to this Pitt team is making plays running the football.
I know he is only a sophomore, but kids wear out throughout the course of a game also.
At least Chryst notices what he has and doesn’t seem at all concerned about possibly giving Conner the ball 30-plus times a game.
“I’m not worried about how much he wants it, as much as what we need and if he’s doing something with it,” said Chryst “I’ve worked with [running backs coach John Settle] and I’ve worked with a lot of backs. We feel like we’ve got a pretty good gauge for workloads. We needed it, and [James Conner] was rolling pretty good. I thought it was alright.”
There will be more games the rest of the season where Pitt will simply have to lean on their stud tailback to come away with a win.
Why bother using him on defense?
It’s not really a matter of worrying about an injury as Conner is just as likely to get hurt carrying the ball as he is rushing the passer.
But it is a matter of resting his legs while the defense is on the field.
Conner is a true team guy. He will do whatever it takes to help the Panthers get a win.
Right now it should be just carrying the football.
As for playing defense, I think he blew that opportunity by coming out of the gates so strong.
The Pitt defense will be just fine without having to put their top running back on the field.
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