Panthers settled at QB, but not in the backfield

PITTSBURGH (AP) Pat Narduzzi seems to have settled on a quarterback.

The rest of the Pitt backfield is unclear.

While Nate Peterman will go out with the first team on Saturday when the Panthers (2-1) open ACC play at Virginia Tech (2-2), Narduzzi isn't sure which running back will join Peterman in the huddle. Qadree Ollison, Chris James and Darrin Hall will get a chance this week to distinguish themselves. So far, none of the three have seized the job in the absence of injured star James Conner, out indefinitely with a torn ligament in his right knee.

Narduzzi listed all three players with an ''or'' next to their name on the depth chart, a sign he is still searching for consistency.

''I wish it was not `ors,''' Narduzzi said Monday. ''I wish number 24 (Conner) was back there but he's not. So obviously it's just a work in progress and we have to go with the hot guy.''

All three had issues in a 27-24 loss to Iowa on Sept. 19. Pitt managed just 55 yards on the ground, with Hall needing 14 carries to gain 38 yards while James and Ollison did little. Narduzzi gave some of the credit to Iowa's defensive front and admitted some inconsistent play by Pittsburgh's offensive line didn't help.

Pitt is just 73rd in the country in yards rushing, not exactly the best way to take the pressure off quarterbacks Peterman and Chad Voytik.

''It's not going to get any easier as you move through the ACC,'' Narduzzi said.

Certainly not against the Hokies, who were competitive during an emotional opening loss to defending national champion Ohio State, but are coming off a 35-28 loss at East Carolina. A chance at redemption begins at the start of league play, and the Panthers know they need something from their trio of running backs to help Peterman continue his gradually improving early season performance.

The graduate transfer from Tennessee began summer drills as the backup but his reps increased through the first two weeks before he got the start against the Hawkeyes. He was 20 for 29 for 219 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. While Narduzzi struggles to tolerate the mistakes, he also can't look past the way Peterman led a second-half comeback, tying the game with 52 seconds to play on an 8-yard score to Tyler Boyd. It was the kind of heady play that led offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to recruit Peterman when Chaney was working at Tennessee.

Reunited at Pitt, the two have found a rapport that has paid early dividends. Narduzzi didn't rule out giving Voytik - who ran for 118 yards against the Hokies last fall - a handful of plays, but for now the starting job is Peterman's to lose thanks to part to the ability to throw it anywhere on the field.

''If you can drop back with all the different formations and pass concepts we have, to be accurate with the ball is good,'' Narduzzi said. ''It's accuracy, really. It's where he's putting the ball and his vision, finding the open guy and putting it where it needs to be.''

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AP College Football Website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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