Darrin Hall adds a needed spark to Pitt offense


Junior running back Darrin Hall had more than 250 yards and three touchdowns in his break-out game against Duke Saturday. (Photo by Anna Bongardino | Assistant Visual Editor)

By Trent Leonard | Staff Writer

In his breakout performance, junior running back Darrin Hall led Pitt to a 24-17 victory over Duke Saturday, rushing 24 times for an incredible 254 yards and three touchdowns. Hall accounted for more than half of the Panthers’ total 485 offensive yards and all three of their touchdowns.

His 92-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter set a Pitt record for longest run, breaking George McLaren’s 100-year-old mark of 91 yards. His 254 rushing yards marked the most by a Pitt running back since James Conner’s 263 in a 2014 double-overtime loss, also versus Duke.

The performance came out of nowhere, both from an individual and team perspective. One thing is for certain — Hall carried the team.

Entering the game, Hall was not the Panthers’ featured back. He previously rushed for only 108 yards on the season, making him Pitt’s fifth leading rusher. Prior to his one-yard score versus NC State in week seven, Hall had not rushed for a touchdown since 2015, his freshman season.

Pitt’s rushing attack — which averages 113.7 yards per game — ranks among college football’s worst at 114 out of 130 FBS teams. Duke’s 16th-ranked rush defense was supposed to be one of the nation’s best, giving up an average of 108 yards per game.

In this weekend’s ACC matchup, Pitt found the answer to its offensive woes, while Duke discovered their Achilles’ heel — Hall.

After the Panther offense stalled in its first drive, Hall ignited the run game with his first carry of the second drive — a 79-yard touchdown scamper in which he darted through a massive gap opened by the Panther offensive line and torched the remaining Duke defenders en route to the end zone.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi took notice of the hot hand, and Hall became the leader of the herd for the remainder of the contest.

Hall’s emergence served to take the pressure off Pitt’s passing attack — a welcome development on an offense recently plagued by quarterback controversy.

Thanks to Hall’s production, redshirt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci only had to throw 14 passes throughout the contest. This marked the first game all season in which Narduzzi did not play two quarterbacks.

Duke’s defense kept Hall in check for most of the second and third quarters, while their offense built up a 17-7 lead. When the Blue Devils bottled up junior Quadree Henderson for an 8-yard kick return late in the third quarter, the Panthers win probability sat at just 10.2 percent.

It took just one carry for Hall to turn the Panthers’ fortunes around, as he covered 92 yards on the very first play, bursting through a seam and once again flashing his breakaway speed as he outraced junior safety Jeremy McDuffie on his record-setting dash to the end zone.

Moving forward, the Panthers seem to have found the answer to their offensive woes in Hall. His 254 yards marked the first time all year that a Pitt player produced more than 200 yards against a Power Five opponent, and he surpassed four of his backfield teammates to become the Panthers’ leading rusher, sitting at 362 yards for the season.

While he may never outdo Saturday’s explosive performance, Hall will take over as the every-down back in a football program with a rich history of running backs.

His impressive breakaway speed makes Pitt’s offense a threat to score from anywhere on the field, so Panther fans can expect him to receive 20-plus carries and rush for 100-plus yards on a consistent basis.

But one productive player will not be enough to carry Pitt to victories over tough upcoming opponents in Miami and Virginia Tech. Hall’s game was a bright spot in a disappointing season, but the Panthers will need more players to step up in the coming weeks if they hope to keep their bowl game chances alive.

The Panthers take on Virginia at home this weekend, and this is the opportunity for Hall to prove that he can play well beyond one game.