Even on an afternoon in which Israel Abanikanda’s day felt like light work, he still racked up 117 rushing yards (6.6 yards per attempt) and a touchdown and 21 receiving yards — on just 19 touches.
His impact, in particular, was felt on Pitt’s final offensive possession.
With a 1st-and-10 at the 37-yard line, with 3:39 left in the fourth quarter, Pitt needed to bleed the clock away with a steady dose of runs to clinch a 28-20 victory over Duke.
Instead, C’Bo Flemister ran twice to set up a 3rd-and-4, and Kedon Slovis’ down throw fell to the dirt. Pitt failed to burn much time, and the lead wasn’t able to be secured as the ensuing punt never took place — the snap flying through Caleb Junko’s hands.
It was a very near miss for Pitt, with Duke scoring a touchdown with under a minute remaining in regulation, but a failed two-point conversion attempt secured a win, nonetheless.
The only way it made sense that Abanikanda didn’t take the field on the final offensive possession, and during large stretches of the second half, was that he was injured. And Pat Narduzzi confirmed he was.
“He was not but he would have been in there if he was, I can promise you that,” Narduzzi said following Pitt’s win.
Abanikanda carried the football 11 times in the first half, racking up 78 yards of total offense and a touchdown, but he only carried the ball six times in the second half. He did convert a two-point conversion attempt in the fourth quarter that proved to be vital.
But even without Abanikanda’s services at times in the second half, as Hammond racked up 21 yards on nine carries and Flemister compiled seven yards on two carries, Slovis said that there wasn’t any sort of concern even with Pitt’s workhorse.
“(Abanikanda is) an explosive player, but we’ve got a great group of backs,” Slovis said. “When the next guy steps up, it’s not like I lose confidence in it, and I don’t think any of the other guys do either. Rodney and C’Bo are both talented too, and Izzy is our guy, and he’s awesome and does a lot of good things, but it’s not like a lot changes.”
With 228 carries for 1,320 yards (5.9 yards per attempt) and 18 touchdowns and 10 receptions for 138 yards and another touchdown, Abanikanda hasn’t just been one of the most explosive runners in college football this season, he’s been one of the highest scorers too.
Abanikanda was running through injury during the second half against Duke, and it remains to be seen whether his injury will impact him against Miami next weekend.