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Running back position a strength as Pitt takes on Virginia

Sportsnaut
Sep 1, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers running back Rodney Hammond Jr. (6) runs after a catch as West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Lance Dixon (5) and cornerback Wesley McCormick (11) chase during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Pittsburgh won 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Asked how he would employ his talented cadre of running backs Saturday at Virginia, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi joked that he was waiting for media advice.

Narduzzi was in a jocular mood coming off a 19-9 upset of then-No. 20 Syracuse as Rodney Hammond Jr., subbing for the nation’s all-purpose yardage leader Israel Abanikanda, carried 28 times for 124 yards and a touchdown against the top defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Not only did Hammond excel, Notre Dame grad transfer C’Bo Flemister emerged for Pitt. During a show-of-force, 11-play drive, Flemister was called on for 10 carries that produced 42 yards and a touchdown.

“If Izzy feels good, we want to give him his touches,” Narduzzi said. “Rodney, C’Bo — it’s a good problem to have.”

It was a much-needed win for defending ACC champion Pitt (5-4, 2-3), which lost three of its first four league games but can clinch a bowl trip with a victory over Virginia (3-6, 1-5).

The Cavaliers also had a chance for a big win on Saturday before falling to then-No. 17 North Carolina 31-28.

Minus his top three receivers, who were sidelined by injuries, Brennan Armstrong threw for 232 yards and rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Sackett Wood, who entered the game with five career catches, had six receptions for 94 yards.

Virginia also was missing its top rusher Perris Jones, giving Mike Hollins (16 carries, 75 yards) and Ronnie Walker Jr. (six carries, 30 yards, touchdown) a chance to thrive.

On Tuesday, Virginia coach Tony Elliott called all three of his sidelined receivers day-to-day but sounded optimistic about the return of top wideout Keytaon Thompson (53 catches, 579 yards), who is “probably the closest.”

Deep threat Lavel Davis Jr. (16 catches, 371 yards) is out of concussion protocol, Elliott said. And Dontayvion Wicks (30 catches, 430 yards) is nursing a bone bruise.

Elliott said he is preparing his team for a physical test against the mauling lines of the Panthers.

“They’re gonna play Steel City football,” Elliott said.

Pitt gained a 48-38 shootout victory vs. Virginia last year despite 487 passing yards and three touchdown throws from Virginia’s Armstrong.

–Field Level Media