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Home / 3-0 and Pitt is something again
Pitt has a cannonball running back, a decent defense and is 3-0 for the first time since 2009.
Head coach Paul Chryst has a team on the rise. Now, the Panthers (3-0) have to deal with attention, but the opposite kind of attention Iowa (2-1) is dealing with now.
People want to get to know running back James Connor, a 6-2, 250-pound sophomore who's fourth nationally in rushing with 181.0 yards a game and 6.79 yards on 80 carries, which is No. 2 nationally.
This week, it's Iowa at Heinz Field (ESPNU 11 a.m.). Anything ESPN will bring more eyes. Chryst seems good with riding the wave.
'I think that's something guys have to learn to deal with,” Chryst said Monday. 'That's a good part of the growth they have to go through. It's easier for coaches to isolate ourselves, but the players are out there. . . . We talk all the time, why do you come to Pitt? You have a chance, if you do stuff, to be recognized.”
The Panthers have done stuff. They mauled Delaware, an FCS school, in its opener, 62-0. Then, in their ACC opener, they handled Boston College, 30-20 (the same Boston College that rushed for 452 yards in a 37-31 victory over USC). Last week, Pitt waited out a 30-minute lightning delay and eventually rolled over Florida International, 42-25.
Now, Pitt is 3-0 and might be able to move from 'others receiving votes” category into the actual top 25 with a victory over the Hawkeyes.
'You have to appreciate that every weekend you have a chance to compete,” said Chryst, who came to Pitt after serving as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator for eight seasons. 'You want to score one more point than the opponent. We've needed everyone in these games, all phases. Those [wins] feel good.”
Conner finished the off FIU with 31 carries for 177 yards and three touchdowns. He now has 544 rushing yards, the most by a Pitt player in the opening three games of a season in program history. Conner surpassed Tony Dorsett, who opened his 1973 freshman campaign with 487 yards through three contests.
Conner also has rushed for more than 100 yards and a touchdown in four consecutive games. Going back to last season, Conner has gained 229, 153, 214 and 177 yards in consecutive games and has scored nine touchdowns.
Conner showed up at Pitt's spring workouts wearing a wristband that read, simply, 'Now.”
'The time is now,” Conner said after the Delaware victory. 'Everybody on our team in interviews is saying we want to win the ACC championship, we want to win 10 games. There's no better time than right now.”
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd (6-2, 190) had four catches for 46 yards and one touchdown against FIU. Boyd has now scored a touchdown in five straight games dating back to last season (four receiving, one punt return).
Conner has eight rushing TDs. Boyd has four receiving TDs. They've combined to score 12 of Pitt's 17 touchdowns this season.
Monday, Chryst was asked about Conner's workload. He kind of smiled and shrugged. Conner had 146 carries last season and should go above 100 for 2014 against the Hawkeyes.
'I'm not worried about how much [James] wants it, as much as what we need and if he's doing something with it,” Chryst said. '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.”
Quarterback Chad Voytik has been fine, but Chryst did replace him with Trey Anderson for a drive in the fourth quarter against FIU.
'I just wanted Chad to take a step back and see things from a different vantage point,” Chryst said. 'Not to make the game too big.
Pitt has a defense, too. The Panthers are fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing just 211.0 yards a game. The Panthers have 10 sacks and five interceptions so far this season.
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