Pitt Panthers Find Success on Ground Without James Conner

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The Pittsburgh Panthers planned on riding their Heisman hopeful running back James Conner all the way to a successful season – the first under Pat Narduzzi. After one half against the Youngstown State Penguins, however, they found themselves without their star running back after leaving the game with a knee injury.

The injury is said not to be serious, and had it been a conference game, Conner would have continued to play.

It would have been easy to panic. The quarterback play had been shaky for the entirety of the first half – with starter Chad Voytik only registering four yards passing on five completions – as well as throwing a pick-six to allow the visitors to stay close.

Backup Nathan Peterman didn’t fare too much better. Despite connecting with wide receiver Dontez Ford on a 42-yard pass, the Tennessee transfer also threw a pick. 

The Panthers were able to kick a field goal on the same possession that Conner left the game with an injury, but after that their drives went – punt, pick-six, fumble, and missed a field goal. (Avonte Maddox returned a kickoff for a touchdown after the interception return).

On the last possession in which Chris Blewitt missed a 45-yard field goal, redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison touched the ball for the first time in his college career – and 46 yards later he was finally taken down.

Getting the ball back on the 20 yard line after forcing a punt, Ollison would carry the ball for three yards on first down before Voytik completed a pass to Elijah Zeise for six yards to set up third down.

Ollison would take a pitch on third down, aided by a block by George Aston to spring him, and scamper down the field for 71 yards and a touchdown.

The redshirt freshman had 128 yards on his first three carries.

Hailing from Niagara Falls, New York, Ollison showed the ability to hit the hole quick, cutting up the field on a dime and lowering his shoulder – barreling over multiple defenders on different occasions.

His 52-yard run in which he bowled over a defender before tiptoeing the sideline to stay inbounds (with a defender draped all over him), showed his versatile skill set – as well as set up Voytik’s one-yard touchdown rush.

Rachid Ibrahim emerged at the end of last season as Conner’s primary backup, but an achilles injury has put the redshirt junior out for the entire season, opening up the door for another Panther running back to step up and get whatever carries aren’t given to their primary back.

Chris James was the first running back off the bench in place of Conner, rushing for 32 yards on seven carriers. True freshman Darrin Hall also ran the ball three times – but failed to net any positive yards.

With a very Conner-like stat line of 16 carries, 207 yards and a touchdown, Ollison made the first move in continuing as the primary backup, and quite possibly saved the Panthers from a second straight loss to Youngstown State.

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