Pitt Football: James Conner Shines As Panthers Continue To Slide


As Pitt football tumbles down the ACC Coastal standings, running back James Conner continues his assault on the Pitt record book.

In the Panthers’ latest loss to Duke, Conner put together one of this best performances to date.  The sophomore set a career high in carries and yards in the double-overtime defeat, rumbling for 263 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries.

This is the second straight game that has seen Conner go over the century mark and score three touchdowns. In last week’s blowout loss to Georgia Tech, the McDowell Mauler rushed for 120 yards on 10 carries and fumbled on what would have been his fourth touchdown on a 75-yard run in the first quarter.  Conner came into the Tech game without a 100-yard performance in his last three contests.

On the season, Conner leads the nation in rushing with 1,342 yards and he is tied for third in rushing touchdowns with 17. His 220 carries rank second in the nation. However, any shot at the Heisman Trophy for Conner have been all but dashed his season. Since jumping out the gate 3-0, the Panthers have lost five of their last six.

Sitting at 4-5, Pitt is on track to miss a bowl season for the first time since 2007. The Panthers must win two of their last three games to be eligible for a bowl game. They finish with road games at North Carolina and Miami and a home game versus Syracuse.

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Despite the grim outlook for a bowl game, Conner keeps running. Barring some epic performances by Conner, Tony Dorsett’s school-record 2,150 rushing yards in 1976 will be safe and Craig “Ironhead” Heyward looks like a lock to keep his school-record 387 carries in 1987. However, Dorsett’s 22 rushing touchdowns in that Heisman winning season could be toppled by Conner.

But if the Panthers miss out on bowl game, no blame falls on Conner. The former three-star recruit has shined as the spearhead of the offense. Since storming on the national scene in Pitt’s bowl win over Bowling Green last season, Conner has been worth the price of admission. He has gone over the century mark 10 times in his young career, and Saturday marked the second time he has rushed for over 100 yards against Duke.

Though Conner may get shut out of any national awards this season, the sophomore from Erie should not be discouraged. With two years of eligibility remaining, Conner will have is shot at cleaning up the college award circuit.  He has already witnessed his former teammate Aaron Donald sweep the defensive awards following his tremendous season last year .

But the sky is the limit for James Conner. As long as Paul Chryst continues lining him up as the featured back, there is no telling how high Conner can take Pitt. Hopefully it is further than the Panthers have gone this year.