A lot of schools can make a compelling case for the title of “Running Back University”: USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas and Miami, just to name a few.
With the likes of Tony Dorsett, Craig “Ironman” Heyward, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and James Conner up on the Wall of Greats inside the running back meeting room at the team facility, Pitt’s argument to lay claim to the throne is as strong as any program in the country. Right now, though, the game-breaking senior duo of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall may be running away with the title of “RBU” for the Panthers.
No wonder those are the last three letters the Pitt running backs shout to break down their pregame huddle.
“Hands down, best two running backs in the country,” Panthers center Jimmy Morrissey said. “I don’t know really how you could argue that. The way that those two guys have put up those numbers and the film they have right now, practically splitting reps, I don’t think any other duo is doing that in the country.”
Ollison and Hall combined for an unthinkable 421 rushing yards in Pitt’s 52-22 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, a little more than a month after both backs went over 100 yards and combined for 299 yards and three touchdowns in the Panthers’ 44-37 overtime win over Syracuse. That gives the pair 1,898 yards and 18 touchdowns on 245 combined attempts in 10 games so far this year.
On Saturday, Hall raced for 186 yards and a touchdown on only seven carries while Ollison tallied 235 yards and three scores on 16 attempts — including a 97-yard scamper to break the school record for the longest play from scrimmage, set last year by Hall on a 92-yard touchdown run vs. Duke. The run also put Ollison over the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career, and first since his freshman year.
“That’s my brother, I love him to death,” Ollison said about Hall. “He came up to me and gave me a big hug [after the run] and he told me that there’s nobody else he would want to have the record other than me.”
Pitt offensive tackle/tight end Carson Van Lynn agreed with Morrissey’s belief that Hall and Ollison make up the best running back tandem in college football, a mantle left vacant when Georgia’s record-setting duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel entered the 2018 NFL Draft.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Van Lynn said.
The Panthers’ duo hasn’t seen nearly enough playing time to approach Chubb and Michel’s FBS-record 8,407 combined rushing yards, but their numbers this season certainly back up their linemen’s claim as the best 1-2 punch in the nation.
Ollison has rushed for 1,054 yards and 10 touchdowns on 149 carries, giving him a 7.1 yards-per-carry average that ranks No. 15 in FBS. Meanwhile, Hall ranks fifth in the country with 8.8 yards per carry, having racked up 844 yards and eight scores on only 96 attempts. No other team has two players among the top-40 rushers in the country, let alone two of the top-15 in yards per attempt.
Oddly enough, the duo tasked with replacing Chubb and Michel at Georgia is the only tandem making a serious run at Hall and Ollison for the 2018 “RBU” mantle. Bulldogs sophomore D’Andre Swift has 808 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, while junior Elijah Holyfield has 767 yards and five scores, and both players rank inside the top-30 in FBS in yards per carry.
There’s no question Swift and Holyfield have done a great job filling in for one of the best running back tandems in NCAA history. But Ollison and Hall still have both of them beat across the board in yards, yards per carry and touchdowns — all while facing the stiffest non-conference schedule in the nation.
Even with all of the evidence at hand, Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson won’t fully commit to the idea that Ollison and Hall are the best tandem around — if only because he hasn’t had a chance to observe the rest of the college football landscape.
“We were laughing about this today — we honestly don’t know what’s going on outside our building,” Watson said. “Because we come in at six, and we leave at whatever time, 10, whatever it is at night. I just think they’re really good. They’re great for us, and I’m thankful to have them. Because the selflessness they have, and what they bring as value as people and players to our program, for me they’re the best.”
The two tailbacks are always quick to credit fullback George Aston and the offensive linemen paving the way on their quest to become the first pair of Pitt running backs to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. In return, Van Lynn gushed about the selfless nature of Ollison and Hall as they take turns rotating in and out of the huddle.
“Q and Darrin are some of the hardest-working guys I know, and it’s really good to look up to them and see all of the work that they’ve put in and how unselfish they are, really,” Van Lynn said. “Q doesn’t care if Darrin is getting the ball, Darrin doesn’t care if Q is getting the ball. If they break out, they’re going crazy on the sideline. They don’t really care, they just want to win.”
So how do the star seniors keep the chemistry so smooth between them when there’s only one football to go around? To Hall, the answer is a simple one.
“We just want to win games,” Hall said. “We’re selfless, and honestly, we just want to win.”