DETROIT — As Pitt entered the 2019 football season, one of the major questions for the Panthers was how they would be able to replace graduated running backs Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison.
Hall and Ollison each topped the 1,000-yard mark in 2018 as the Panthers leaned heavily on their running game with the pair of talented seniors.
At the end of 2019, the easy answer to that question has been nobody.
No Pitt back came even close to the 1,000-yard mark, with junior A.J. Davis pacing the field with 530 yards. Throughout the season, Davis, redshirt sophomore Todd Sibley, sophomore V’Lique Carter and freshman Vincent Davis shared opportunities, but none ever seemed to be able to grab hold of the job on even a regular basis.
But that might’ve changed in the Quick Lane Bowl.
A.J. Davis started the game, but Vincent Davis quickly became Pitt’s primary option in the running game. He finished with 69 yards and a touchdown and maybe more importantly, earned 15 carries, while Pitt’s other backs combined for just four.
It was the first time all season Vincent Davis dominated the carries in such a fashion, and it could be something he can continue to do moving forward as the Panthers look ahead to spring ball and 2020.
“I had to take it in all at once and just be mature about it,” Davis said. “I think I’ll be ready. I’m learning a lot. Coach [Andre] Powell has taught me a lot since I’ve been here. I still have some learning to do and this was a good learning experience.”
Pitt’s offense made a seismic shift away from the running game in 2019 in the first season under offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. After averaging 41 rushing attempts and 23 passing attempts in 2018, Pitt averaged 34 rushing attempts and 40 passing attempts per game in 2019.
But that doesn’t mean that it still can’t be explosive in the running game. What was mostly lacking for Pitt in 2019 was the high level of execution that Panthers exhibited in the past.
In 2018, Hall averaged 7.5 yards per carry, Ollison averaged 6.3 and Carter 8.1. This season, Vincent Davis paced the Pitt backs with a 5.1 yards-per-carry average. He, Sibley (5), A.J. Davis (4.2) and Carter (3.7) didn’t come close to replicating the production Pitt got from its departed 2018 rushers.
That’s somewhat to be expected with a group of inexperienced backs replacing fourth and fifth-year seniors. The growth of that group as returners in 2020 will be critical.
“There’s definitely a lot you haven’t seen yet,” Vincent Davis said. “You’ll see. Just wait.”