Pitt heads to Akron searching for identity, revenge
James Conner's surgically repaired right knee will be fine.
Pittsburgh hopes to say the same about its 2015 season even without its star running back, whose junior year lasted all of 20 minutes. Conner tore the MCL in his right knee in the second quarter of an opening week win over Youngstown State.
Cornerback Avonte Maddox likened losing the reigning ACC Player of the Year to ''a punch to the face,'' one he's confident the Panthers can overcome.
''I know we're going to be good,'' Maddox said.
A precocious debut by Conner's successor certainly helped. Qadree Ollison ran for 207 yards and a score in his first collegiate game, the most ever by a Pitt freshman in his debut, though the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Ollison downplays any comparisons between himself and Conner.
''When you have a great player like that go down, other guys need to step up and try and fill the void,'' Ollison said. ''I'm not going to say that's me, I'm the guy to fill the void. It's a collective.''
One Ollison figures to head. Chris James will be available after leaving the game against Youngstown with a minor injury, but Ollison provided a pretty compelling argument on who should be the starter after bolting 46 yards on his first carry and later adding a 71-yard sprint to the end zone.
The 19-year-old certainly got the attention of Akron coach Terry Bowden, who orchestrated an upset victory at Pitt last fall when the Zips held Conner in check. Now here comes Ollison.
''I don't think it changes their style,'' Bowden said. ''I don't think it changes what they want to do. We knew we had to stop (Conner) last year. We figure we need to stop (Ollison) this year.''
Ollison, whose motto is ''stay ready so you don't have to get ready,'' was pushed onto the field so quickly last week he didn't have time to get nervous. Given a week to prep for the Zips (0-1) he enjoyed the extra practice time with the starters but doesn't anticipate any jitters. Sure, the stadiums are bigger but hey, football is football.
''You can talk about schemes or concepts but at the end of the day it's you lining up from the guy across from you and it's going to be who is the bigger man,'' he said.
Other things too look for as Akron tries for an unlikely sweep of a home-and-home series.
The Zips didn't stun the Panthers at Heinz Field last fall, they dominated them in a 21-10 victory. Akron controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage, limiting James to 92 yards on 25 carries while riding Conor Hundley raced for 142 yards and lineman Cody Grice bulled for a pair of short scores. Bowden, however, knows there's little chance of Pitt looking past the Zips this time. Not that he cares.
''When you schedule these Power 5 conference teams, you think `Wouldn't it be great to win one out of two,''' Bowden said. ''And you get that first one and now you want to get both of them.''
QB SHUFFLE I
Pitt figures to give freshman Nathan Peterman a series or two in relief of starter Chad Voytik at some point just as it did against Youngstown State. Peterman hit on a big pass play to Dontez Ford but also tossed a pick. Voytik was only so-so the rest of the way, admitting afterward he needs to improve quickly.
QB SHUFFLE II
Akron figures to rotate between Kyle Pohl and Tra'Von Chapman - who spent a semester at Pitt before being dismissed - with Bowden not ruling out Thomas Woodson from getting snaps. Pohl is the best passer of the three, with Chapman a more accomplished runner and Woodson arguably the best combination of both. Chapman missed on all eight of his throws in a 41-3 loss to Oklahoma last week.
Pitt junior wide receiver Tyler Boyd will return from a one-game suspension following a traffic stop in June. The Panthers mustered little in the passing game against Youngstown State, the lone scoring pass a 55-yard heave from Voytik to Scott Orndoff that was more of a jump ball between Orndoff and teammate Elijah Zeise. Boyd is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
AP College Football Website: www.collegefootball.ap.org