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Three running backs prop up Pitt hopes against Duke

November 10, 2018

Pitt’s fate this season might rest with three players getting ready for the final games of their college careers.

With a passing game that doesn’t look sturdy enough to prop up Pitt’s ACC title hopes, senior running backs Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison and fullback George Aston could be Pitt’s best hopes to beat Duke on Saturday at Heinz Field.

“Those three seniors have made my job a lot easier,” running backs coach Andre Powell said. “They’re all smart. They’re all tough. They’re all dependable.”

Ollison and Hall already have rushed for 1,022 yards between them and scored 10 of the team’s 19 offensive touchdowns. Leading the way as a blocking back is Aston, whose role with the ball in his hands has diminished but whose importance to the gameplan never has changed.

“He’s been fantastic,” Powell said of Aston. “He does those jobs nobody else wants to do, and he enjoys doing them. I wouldn’t trade him for (anyone).”

Aston scored 10 touchdowns in 2016 before injuries limited him to two games last season. So far this year, he’s carried the ball only twice and made 13 receptions (third on the team) for 60 yards and a touchdown.

“Other teams know who he is,” said Powell, ignoring the numbers.

Powell was asked when he noticed Aston would be a valuable member of the team.

“I just looked at his neck width,” he said. “A guy with his neck that size, I want him on my side.”

Hall gets a rematch with the Duke defense Saturday after he rushed for 254 yards against the Blue Devils last season. It was the 10th-best single-game rushing effort in Pitt history, tied with Craig “Ironhead” Heyward in the 1986 Miami game.

Hall made it look easy, but it hasn’t always been that way this season. Minor details hampered Pitt’s offense in the loss to Notre Dame.

“There were points in the game where we weren’t playing with great technique or fundamentals, and we missed our opportunities,” Hall said. “That happens way too often sometimes.

“We have to a play with great technique. (Duke’s defense) doesn’t miss too many gaps. We have to make sure we’re making the right reads.”

Hall has made effective use of the wildcat formation in recent weeks, taking a direct snap from center and getting a quicker read of the defense.

“I get to see everything right away,” he said. “I have a couple extra seconds to see the reads. My job is easy: just find the hole.”

He said the off week after Notre Dame was a chance to relax from the stress of the season.

“I played with El (two-month-old daughter Elliona Lynn) as much as I could, (did) fun things outside of football,” Hall said. “Now, when you come back, you’re ready to go, you’re anxious to play, ready to hit someone.”

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