When the Pitt Panthers lost Rushel Shell to transfer, it was a major blow to the backfield for 2013. Shell was the No. 2 running back during his freshman season and was ready to step in as the primary back in Paul Chryst‘s run-heavy offense. The Panthers were forced to move on to Plan B, however, without him and they are learning the difficulties of relying on a contingency plan after a rough outing during the team’s spring game.
Isaac Bennett, who appears poised to take over as the No. 1 running back in 2013, did some nice things in the scrimmage, rushing for 114 yards on 20 carries and broke off a 48-yard touchdown run. But the junior has struggled with fumbles all spring long and fell victim to it once again on the second play of the spring game. The other backs who figure to see expanded roles in 2013, Malcolm Crockett and Desmond Brown, also got in on the action and had fumbles of their own during the scrimmage.
Chryst wants to install a tough, physical offense at Pitt that runs the ball over and around opposing defenses. By all accounts, the Panthers may have patchworked together an offensive line that can get that done, but nothing will undercut Chryst’s offense faster than fumbles by the running back. Pitt needs to find a reliable back that can not only gain the tough yards between the tackles, but also protect the football and keep their offense on the field.
Pitt will have to find some answers (or some stickum) for their backfield before next fall. If the running backs put the ball on the ground, then the Panthers offense has no hope of success in 2013. Can Bennett/Crockett/Brown turn things around?