Conner big again, while defense manages youth


Conner carries the team

Coming into the season, football fans knew that Pitt had two dangerous offensive threats: running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd.

It’s now week four, and one of those threats, Conner, has more carries (81) than any other player from a Power 5 conference, while Boyd has just 11 catches.

Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik has shown spurts of promise, but opponents haven’t tested his arm much. He’s only thrown 50 passes, completing 29, for 284 yards.

In fact, Voytik has actually been more efficient on the ground himself, keeping the ball 20 times for 172 yards. He’s ranked 15th nationally in yards per rush (8.6).

Nonetheless, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst needs to see point production coming from other areas.

“For different reasons, it hasn’t been as consistent as we like,” Chryst said of Pitt’s passing game. “You want to be a balanced offense. There are games when you’re going to be able to run the ball to win and there’s going to be games when you need to throw the ball to win, and so you want to be able to trust that and go with it.”

Historically speaking, Pitt has never had a back come running out of the gates quite like Conner.

The sophomore bruiser now maintains a Power 5 conference-leading 545 total rushing yards. In Saturday’s win over FIU, he cruised past Tony Dorsett’s previous Pitt record of 487 yards through a season’s first three games. Conner leads the nation in touchdowns (eight), and he is also giving Pitt a respectable 6.7 yards per carry.

Young defensive line holding up

Defensive end David Durham reportedly suffered an unspecified shoulder injury last week and did not make the trip to Miami on Saturday for the game against FIU.

Chryst said the staff will continue to assess Durham’s health and that Durham, a redshirt senior, would take practice off until he’s ready. 

“We’ll see where he’s at. Hopefully it’s nothing long-term. I don’t believe it is,” Chryst said.

In Durham’s place was freshman Luke Maclean, who shared a sack with redshirt junior Devin Cook. Freshman Rori Blair also got reps at end, recording two tackles.

“They’re accepting that we’re going to need them to play,” Pitt defensive tackle Darryl Render said.

Superhuman Scherff

Undefeated Pitt faces 2-1 Iowa at noon Saturday at Heinz Field. Iowa has a massive offensive line led by left tackle Brandon Scherff, a 6-foot-5, 320-pound senior who projects as a first-round NFL draft pick.

Scherff suffered a knee injury in the Hawkeyes’ week two 17-13 win over Ball State and reportedly underwent surgery days later.

This past Saturday, less than a week after he had the reported surgery, Scherff started for Iowa in its last-second 20-17 loss to rival Iowa State.

Pitt safety Ray Vinopal played against Iowa as a freshman reserve at Michigan before transferring to Pitt.

“We’ve got to come out physical from the jump,” Vinopal, a redshirt senior, said. “They don’t mess up. When a team doesn’t kick themselves in the foot, you can’t do the same. We’re going to have to play error-free because we know they’re going to play error-free.”

Chryst handcuffs Officer

Alex Officer got his first start at center Saturday in place of the injured Artie Rowell, although Chryst said Officer does not have the starting gig locked up.

Officer, a redshirt freshman, is competing with Gabe Roberts, a redshirt sophomore,  and the battle will continue at practice this week.

“I think what it does, it forces them to truly grow,” Chryst said of the arrangement. 

At FIU, Officer and second-string quarterback Trey Anderson mishandled a snap in the fourth quarter, resulting in a fumble, although Pitt recovered.

Pitt received 40 votes in the most recent Associated Press top 25 poll, released on Sunday, making it ranked 33rd. Two ACC teams made the list: No. 1 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson. Other conference schools receiving votes include North Carolina (82), Duke (55), Virginia Tech (54), Boston College (22), Virginia (six) and Louisville (two).