Conner scores 4 TDs in first start

PITTSBURGH – Sophomore running back James Conner earned his first career start on Saturday and he responded in style by rushing for 153 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries-in the first half.

“I didn’t have any butterflies. I just wanted to focus on consistency and pad level and things opened up today,” Conner said. “I love it when we run the ball and they call my name in the huddle. When they call a run play, that tells me they’re saying, ‘James, do something with the ball.’ “

Quarterback Chad Voytik was also starting his first college game. He was happy that the running game made his job much easier. He only had to throw 10 passes as the Panthers rushed for over 400 yards.

“What more can you ask for. [The run game] made it easier on me today,” Voytik said. “As long as we’re moving the ball, I’m fine with it.”

Conner’s longest run of his career came early in the second quarter. He broke free at the Pitt 36-yard line and sprinted 60 yards down the right sideline before he was horse-collered at the Delaware 4-yard line.

“The hole opened up, I broke a tackle, and I was able to break it long. Patience was the key on that run,” Conner said. “I said I wanted to break a long run this year. I shouldn’t have kept looking back. Coach said if I didn’t keep looking back, I would have scored.”

Head coach Paul Chryst credited Conner after the game with the hard-nose style showed during the game. He was not re-inserted in the second half as the Panthers were ahead 42-0 at the break.

“I love the way [Conner] approaches the game,” Chryst said. “He was out there to compete. That’s who he is.”

Conner had four 100-yard rushing games last season including a career-high 229 yards against Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl which was a Pitt bowl record, passing up Tony Dorsett’s 202 yards vs. Georgia in the 1977 (National Championship) Sugar Bowl.

“Having a year under my belt really helped me,” Conner said. “I know what to expect now and the physicality of the game. I just wanted to run hard and keep moving the chains.”

Conner was glad to compete for all the fans including his older brother Michael, who is in the U.S. Air Force and lives in Pensacola, Fla., but surprised him by attending the game.

“I knew I would have a lot of eyes on me including my brother [Michael]. Him being there just made my whole day,” Conner said. “He told me he wasn’t going to watch the game on tv, I thought he was mad at me. I said, ‘why not,’ and he said, because I’m coming to the game, so I had to show up for him.”