Football: Bennett delivers in victorious spot start

Football%3A+Bennett+delivers+in+victorious+spot+start

By Dan Sostek / Staff Writer

As the 2013 Pitt football season has progressed, fans and pundits alike have raved about the play of freshman running back James Conner. And that raving is justified, as Conner has compiled two 100-yard performances and four rushing touchdowns, while taking the majority of the carries. Conner had appeared to have secured the role of primary back.

Because of Conner’s success, many began to overlook a certain junior running back on the team, a running back with more career carries than anyone else on the roster. This junior is Isaac Bennett, who, despite being listed as the starter on the official depth chart, has recently taken a back seat to the freshman phenom Conner.

Many in Bennett’s place would pout. Some would shy away from teammates. Some might complain publicly. But that isn’t who Bennett is.

“I’m a team player first and foremost,” said Bennett. “I just do my part.”

Sign up for our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox three times a week.

It was this positive mindset and the ability to just go with the flow that allowed Bennett to dominate Old Dominion on Saturday evening.

On a night when the Panthers needed the running game to work because redshirt senior quarterback Tom Savage, who had suffered the painful aftermath of sacks the past two games, was not on his A game. And, with Conner out for the game with a shoulder injury, the majority of the carries were likely to go to Bennett.

But not even Bennett imagined a workload of 30 carries.

“Honestly, I wasn’t prepared to run the ball that many times,” said the Tulsa, Okla., native. “I don’t even remember the last time I ran the ball 30 times in a game.”

But it wasn’t only the workload that stuck out on the final stat line for Bennett. It was what he did with that workload that became the highlight of the night for the Panthers. Bennett compiled 240 yards rushing and three touchdowns on those 30 carries en route to a 35-24 victory over Old Dominion. He became the first Pitt player to rush for 200 yards in a game since Ray Graham did so in 2011 and rushed for the most in a game since Dion Lewis ran for 261 against Cincinnati in 2010.

Pitt head coach Paul Chryst was short and sweet in his analysis of Bennett’s performance, saying, “Isaac ran the ball well. He ran the ball hard. It was good to see.” He also added that “the guys up front worked their tail off for that to happen.”

After the game, Bennett was quick to give credit to his offensive line as well. “My eyes got pretty big seeing all those holes they made,” said Bennett. “They got about as big as those holes.”

Savage, who again struggled to find a rhythm in the passing game, throwing for only 104 yards and a touchdown, lauded Bennett post game as well. “[Bennett] is just the type of guy you want to have on your team,” said the Panthers’ senior quarterback. “With James coming out doing what he did, a lot of juniors would just put their head down. But he always has a smile on his face. It couldn’t have happened to a better person.”

While the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as Old Dominion’s defense is notoriously porous, Bennett’s performance was a step in the right direction for a running game that has struggled to get going early on the past two games.

With Conner possibly returning next week for Pitt’s road matchup against Navy, Bennett’s workload will likely diminish despite his monstrosity of a game.

But he isn’t concerned because for him, “it’s all about the team.”