The Pitt Panthers were struggling to get their running game off the ground this season coming into last weeks game against the Old Dominion Monarchs. They had been dealt a blow during the summer when projected starter Rushel Shell decided he would be transferring out of the program before eventually landing with the rival West Virginia Mountaineers. Isaac Bennett was supposed to step up into the primary back role but had not found much room to run this season. Could his breakout performance last week be a sign of things to come?
In five games prior to last weeks’ game, Bennett had broken the 100-yard mark just once with a 14-carry, 101-yard performance against the New Mexico Lobos, arguably one of the worst teams in college football. That was also the only game that Bennett had scored a rushing touchdown in, running a pair of carries in for six. In the other four games, Bennett ran for no more than 38 yards (averaging 27.25 per), low-lighted by a five carries for five yards effort against the Virginia Cavaliers.
That looks like it might be turning around, however, after last Saturday. Bennett carried the ball a season-high 30 times for 240 yards (30 more yards than he’d gained in the five games prior) and scored three touchdowns in the Panthers’ 35-24 victory. Granted, it wasn’t against the greatest opposition as ODU is still making the transition from FCS to FBS, but for a team that totaled just 8 and 23 total rushing yards in the previous two games, Pitt won’t be splitting hairs.
Paul Chryst needs the running game to carry its fair share to maintain balance in the Panthers’ attack if Pitt has any shot at finishing the 2013 season strong. The career-day for Bennett is a positive step for this offense. Can he keep it going against some stiffer competition?