Pitt establishes identity behind Conner

  • By Dale Grdnic
    Associated Press September 2, 2014
Pitt running back James Conner, right, celebrates with teammates tight end J.P. Holtz and quarterback Chad Voytik after scoring in the first quarter Saturday against Delaware. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Run, pass – coach Paul Chryst insists he doesn’t care how Pitt moves the ball so long as it moves.

Then again, it’s not like he’s complaining after watching the Panthers roll up 409 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in a 62-0 stomping against overmatched Delaware Saturday.

“Certainly, we want to be balanced,” Chryst said Tuesday. “(But) I honestly don’t care about the number. There are going to be games when you have to win it by running the ball, and there’s going to be games when you have to win it by throwing. So, I think you have to be able to do both.”

Balance was hardly necessary while mashing the Blue Hens.

James Conner was the bulldozer for Pitt and the sophomore running back flattened Delaware for 153 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries and in only one half of action. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, Conner has the size to run over the opposition and speed to run away from it once he breaks into the clear.

“We got a really good rhythm going, and once you feel like you can move the ball at your will you want to continue to run that way,” Conner said. “And knowing that you can move the ball when the coach calls your name, you get pretty amped up about that.”

Pitt’s offensive line provided the Panthers with considerable running room. The 409 yards is the schools highest rushing total since 444 yards against Temple in 1976.

“We definitely could feel the power and the momentum (Saturday),” senior right guard Matt Rotheram said. “Everybody was playing with confidence, and you could feel it out there. So, it was a lot of fun.”

Conner understands Friday night’s nationally televised game at Boston College will allow the Panthers an early cameo in the spotlight. Conner laughed because “you never know who’s going to be watching,” noting that a couple years ago former Pitt tailback Ray Graham earned a shoutout on Twitter from LeBron James while running roughshod over South Florida.

“I’ll take LeBron,” Conner said. But what about Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Fred Biletnikoff, who is from Conner’s hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania.

“Fred, yeah, he’s been back to Erie a couple times,” Conner said. “He’s well-known there, and that would be sweet if I got some recognition from him.”

If Conner continues to steamroll the opposition, Biletnikoff won’t be the only one.


Chryst said standout sophomore WR Tyler Boyd, who dislocated a finger on his left hand Saturday, was OK because “he practiced (Monday), and he’ll practice again (Tuesday).” Chryst added: “We used a little tape, a Band-Aid, duct tape.” . Pitt had a players-only meeting Friday that Rotheram said was a “senior-led event” to “motivate the team.” And the Panthers quickly got on the same page. . Chryst expected to rotate players on his offensive line again this week with a couple guys playing different positions.


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