It was just about 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 when Jaden Bradley hauled in an 18-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech.
It was also — unknowingly — the last time a Pitt player not named Israel Abanikanda would score a touchdown in over a month.
The next Pitt touchdown that wasn’t courtesy of Abanikanda wouldn’t arrive until Nov. 5, a six-yard Rodney Hammond Jr. touchdown in the second quarter of a win over Syracuse — a game in which Abanikanda did not play. It was a 35-day stretch.
In that time, Abanikanda scored 10 touchdowns over a three-game period. That’s as many touchdowns as Illinois’ Chase Brown ran for this season. For reference.
In Pitt’s lone win in the month of October, Abanikanda ran for a school-record 320 yards and six touchdowns. And Pitt needed every yard and every point.
In losses to Louisville and North Carolina, Abanikanda scored all four offensive touchdowns and racked up 254 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards — fueling the offense to second half leads. And without Abanikanda, following a first half injury, Pitt’s offense crashed in a loss to Georgia Tech.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Pitt’s offense this season has operated with one expectation in mind: Izzy is bound to break a big run soon.
More often than not, Izzy broke one. He’s rushed for 1,431 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, averaging 5.9 yards per attempt. He is the reason the offense survived.
And when the Doak Walker Award finalists were announced Tuesday, Abanikanda’s name was not one. Brown, Michigan’s Blake Corum and Texas’ Bijan Robinson are this season’s finalists. So, what do we have?
|Rush Attempts||Rush Yards||Yards/Attempt||Rush TDs||Rush Yards/Game||Total Points||PPG||Total TDs|
|Blake Corum||247 (9)||1,463 (8)||5.92 (28)||18 (4)||121.9 (10)||114 (6)||9.5 (8)||19 (3)|
|Bijan Robinson||258 (7)||1,580 (5)||6.1 (24)||18 (4)||131.7 (6)||120 (5)||10 (7)||20 (2)|
|Chase Brown||328 (1)||1,643 (2)||5.01 (73)||10 (39)||136.9 (3)||78 (86)||6.5 (100)||13 (23)|
|Israel Abanikanda||239 (11)||1,431 (9)||5.99 (26)||20 (1)||130.1 (7)||128 (1)||11.6 (1)||21 (1)|
We have some serious… what’s the word here, bulls**t?
All three of the finalists have put together excellent seasons. That isn’t a question. But Abanikanda has been one of the three best running backs in college football this season. The only question is if he’s been the very best.
Let’s start with passing offenses. Texas is 62nd (230.8 yards per game), Pitt is 78th (221.2 yards per game), Michigan is 91st (214.6 yards per game) and Illinois is 98th (208.3 yards per game). There isn’t a great discrepancy.
When it comes to team success, Corum has the edge. He’s the only of the four on an unbeaten team, and he’s been a major factor in that. But even then, his backup leads college football in yards per attempt, racking up 687 yards and six touchdowns.
And with Corum limited to just two carries in the biggest game of the season against Ohio State over the weekend, Edwards put up a 216-yard, two-touchdown performance. Michigan isn’t struggling for contributions without Corum in the lineup.
Abanikanda, Robinson and Brown all play on teams that are 8-4 and either ranked in the 20s of the most recent AP Poll or are receiving votes. None are playing for postseason honors at this point.
Abanikanda received the fewest attempts in comparison to any of the three finalists, almost 100 fewer attempts than Brown, but his yards per game and average per attempt point to his true impact.
It’s not as if any of the three finalists are world-beating, game-changing threats driving their teams to success. So… if there aren’t any true game-changers or freak statistical anomalies, why isn’t Abanikanda a finalist?
According to Pro Football Focus, Abanikanda recorded 644 yards after contact this season, a very respectable 2.67 yards after contact per attempt, but that can be attributed to the numerous runs this season where he’s been able to avoid tacklers and explode into the defensive secondary for breakaway touchdowns.
Abanikanda isn’t someone who will jump and cut in the backfield, avoiding would-be tacklers — although he’s still recorded 46 missed tackles this season — but he is a true breakaway threat.
With 38 rush attempts of at least 10 yards and 19 rush attempts of at least 15 yards, he racked up 631 breakaway yards this season — a breakaway percentage of 44.2%.
Abanikanda missed a game and a half to injury this season, which does handicap his overall numbers a bit, but that’s not an excuse. Even with missed time, Abanikanda’s numbers deserve Doak Walker recognition.
Abanikanda is the leading scorer in college football this season. I don’t know if it’s common knowledge or not, but scoring touchdowns is important. And it’s not as if he’s diving into the end zone from a yard out. His 13 rushing touchdowns of at least 10 yards are five more than anyone else in college football this season.
If we want a true “Doak Walker” moment, here’s what we’ve got:
Corum: 30 carries for 243 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland
Robinson: 25 carries for 243 yards and four touchdowns against Kansas
Brown: 36 carries for 199 yards against Indiana
Abanikanda: 36 carries for 320 yards and six touchdowns against Virginia Tech
As Abanikanda left the field at Acrisure Stadium in the fourth quarter of a win against Virginia, his legs cramping after breaking a single-game record set by Tony Dorsett during his own Heisman Trophy campaign, his true impact was felt.
If Pitt was going to win in 2022, it was going to be because of his efforts. And eight wins rest largely upon his shoulders.
There is going to be debate for any list. In everything ever. But the debate here shouldn’t revolve around which candidate Abanikanda should be replacing. It should be certain that Abanikanda is one of the three best running backs in college football this season — if not the best.