Pat Narduzzi walked out of his weekly Thursday media availability at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex with a parting message: I like where Izzy is right now.
Israel Abanikanda did not return for the second half of the Georgia Tech game last weekend, picking up an undisclosed injury at some point in the first half, and his status for Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech is still undetermined. But if Narduzzi has liked what he’s seen from Izzy so far this week enough to feel good about where he is? That bodes well for his status this week.
And if Izzy isn’t able to go Saturday, with Rodney Hammond Jr. still likely out this weekend too, Narduzzi is still confident in the running backs he has at his disposal — if those three are able to remain healthy, that is.
“I’m comfortable unless it goes down to one, then I’m not so comfortable,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve got Daniel Carter over there too. It’s kinda the 2022 season though for us. It’s injuries.”
Abanikanda missed the second half of the Georgia Tech game, Hammond hasn’t played since the fourth quarter of the season opener against West Virginia after sustaining an ankle injury. It’s left Vincent Davis, C’Bo Flemister and Daniel Carter on hand for Pitt.
Davis has served as Abanikanda’s main reserve so far this season, racking up 134 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Western Michigan and Rhode Island. And as Izzy went down against Georgia Tech, Davis once again stepped in the starting role.
However, while Davis racked up 80 yards and three receptions, he also fumbled the ball away twice in the second half, giving GT 10 crucial points.
It was a tough performance, one that could’ve killed another player’s confidence, but it’s seemingly only made Davis more determined to not let the football ball out of his grasp again. And in the week of practice since, Narduzzi has seen the bounce back with his own eyes — and more.
“Outstanding,” Narduzzi. “Like I know Vince does. Even today, we were going into a period, he had a ball in his hand and I came from behind trying to punch it out. He goes, ‘Come on, coach, that was last week! I’ve got this.’ And I didnt get anythng out.
“That’s how he is. It’s not like he’s, ‘Oh my gosh,’ nervous about ball security, if you guys remember a couple years ago, the guy played with a cast on his hand. That’s when I got nervous.”
Davis is an experienced option in the backfield, and Flemister and Carter both have their roles to play. There’s a path to Carter playing more at tailback too.
“Daniel’s a physical runner,” Narduzzi said. “There’s an option — he’s got that F position as well. We’re not afraid to put him in. There’s a difference between when Izzy’s in there and when he’s in there. If there’s a five-yard hole, he’s gonna get 5 yards probaby. Izzy might get 55.”
So while Carter doesn’t quite have the same burst that a player like Abanikanda does, he is able to put his shoulder down and run over a defender to pick up an extra three yards. Narduzzi has confidence in all five running backs at his disposal this season.
It will come all the way down to Saturday right before gametime to see who exactly will be starting for Pitt this wekeend, but it sounds like Abanikanda has a good chance to play.
Abanikanda — 93 carries for 510 yards (5.5 average) and six TDs; four receptions for 59 yards (14.8 average) and TD
Davis — 38 carries for 228 yards (6.0 average) and TD; seven receptions for 61 yards (8.7 average)
Hammond — 16 carries for 74 yards (4.6 average) and two TDs; two receptions for 55 yards (27.5 average)
Flemister — 11 carries for 45 yards (4.1 average)
Carter — 11 carries for 29 yards (2.6 average) and two TDs