Sports, Football

BC Knows About Pittsburgh’s Rushers, But Can It Stop Them?

Mike Alstott played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at a listed 6-foot-1, 248 pounds of all muscle and no fear. When anchoring SportsCenter or Sunday NFL Countdown, Chris Berman would shout about how Mike Alstott was “rumblin’, stumblin’, bumblin’” his way through the defensive line for a touchdown.

James Conner is the Pittsburgh Panthers’ star sophomore running back, listed at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds. Had Berman been narrating the highlights of Pitt’s 62-0 thrashing of the Delaware Blue Hens last Saturday, his voice might’ve gone hoarse from all the rumblin’, stumblin’, and bumblin’ it would’ve been doing. In the first half alone, Conner ran for 153 yards on 14 attempts and found the end zone four times.

For his first touchdown, Conner refused to go down after being stood up just short of the end zone, and with the help of a few of his linemen, he was able to push forward over the goal line and score.

Twice, Conner hit a hole only to see a Delaware defender sliding in to cover it up. Twice, Conner lowered his shoulder and forced his way into the end zone. On Conner’s final touchdown, he showed a quickness and nimbleness that belied his size as he made a quick cut and used a burst of speed to outrun the defensive backs and finish off his final 19-yard scamper.

The Panthers finished Saturday’s game with 501 yards of offense, 409 of which came on the ground (which, amazingly, is good for just sixth in the nation).

Quarterback Chad Voytik finished the day 10-13 with 84 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went to sophomore standout wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd later left the game with a dislocated finger, and though he practiced both Monday and Tuesday, his status for Friday night is unknown.

Defensively, Pittsburgh suffocated the Blue Hens, holding them to five first downs and just 57 total yards while forcing three turnovers in their first game without stud defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was the 13th-overall pick in the NFL draft in May.

As the Panthers look ahead to their Friday night date with the Eagles, it’s easy to see Pitt head coach Paul Chryst utilizing the same strategy he used last week, the one by which Boston College head coach Steve Addazio lives and dies—pounding the rock. As they showed last week, though, the Eagles have some issues with defending the deep ball, and should Boyd play, he’ll likely cause BC fans to wring their hands every time Voytik launches a deep pass in his direction.

Overall, however, this will be a game decided in the trenches. Each of Pitt’s five starting offensive linemen weighs in at over 300 pounds and easily manhandled Delaware last week.

On the defensive side of the ball, Pitt’s linemen weigh an average of 273 pounds, and they will be hard-pressed to keep up with the BC offensive line. Chryst understands that BC is going to run the ball with a number of different and multi-faceted options.

“You’ve gotta play sound, and you’ve gotta be able to adjust … How we defend it is gonna be a big part of the game,” Chryst said of the BC multi-faceted running attack. Chryst was particularly impressed with Eagles’ quarterback Tyler Murphy, who made his debut last weekend. “Boy, he’s a good player … I thought he looked comfortable with what he was doing,” Chryst said.

It’s the ACC opener for both teams on Friday night, as well as BC’s home opener. The Panthers are now in their second year of ACC football and seem poised to show the rest of the conference they’re no bums. Four hundred and nine yards and seven rushing touchdowns are serious numbers, and linebacker and captain Sean Duggan says the team isn’t taking those numbers lightly just because they came against an FCS opponent. “Any team that puts up those types of numbers … it’s definitely impressive,” Duggan said.

While Pitt’s performance was definitely eyebrow raising, it was powered by the strong, powerful, quick, rumblin’, stumblin’, bumblin’ running back James Conner. The Eagles have to know what’s coming their way—the question is, can they stop it?

Featured Image by Keith Srakocic/AP

September 4, 2014