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Pitt assistant Andre Powell juggles RB, special teams issues

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Kickers, punters, gunners and runners must answer to Pitt assistant coach Andre Powell.

Which, in turn, keeps Powell busy from the time the sun comes up until long after it sets over the South Side. He is running backs coach on a team that emphasizes its ground game, and he also is the special teams coach, which presented a unique set of problems earlier this season.

But if Powell does nothing else this week while preparing his players for Saturday’s game against North Carolina — one of 10 schools he has worked for in a 31-year coaching career — he plans to do this:

Get Darrin Hall in the game more frequently.

“Hall is playing really good,” Powell said. “I need to play Hall a little bit more because he can bring a lot to the table, take a little bit off (Qadree) Ollison because we have a long season to play.”

Hall led Pitt in rushing yards (628), attempts (128) and touchdowns (nine) last season, but he has carried only 18 times for 79 yards and one touchdown through the first three games this year.

But even if the gap between Ollison and Hall — seniors and close friends — closes, that still doesn’t leave a lot of work for sophomore A.J. Davis, one of the gems of Pitt’s 2017 recruiting class.

Davis, actually, has one more attempt than Hall, for 5 more yards, but his turn as Pitt’s marquee running back might have to wait until next year.

Davis was disappointed in his playing time, but coach and pupil had a recent chat and the situation quickly was resolved.

“I said, ‘Who’s going to be the oldest guy in the (running backs) room next year?’ ” Powell said, relaying their conversation.

“He said, ‘You are.’ ”

Other than a quick wit, Davis brings an elusive element to Pitt’s running game. Barring anything unforeseen, however, Ollison and Hall will carry most of the load.

“Next year, when you’re getting the majority of the reps,” Powell told Davis, “it’s going to be Mychale (freshman Salahuddin) who’s going to be upset.

“Those guys (Ollison and Hall) have seen a lot of things. They played Georgia Tech. They played North Carolina. They know what to expect.”

Although Salahuddin didn’t have any carries against Georgia Tech, Powell got him on the field briefly to give him a taste of college football.

“You never know. Two weeks down the road, someone could twist an ankle. Someone could pull a hamstring. So get them in a game, get them a little feel, let them grow slow.”

After using simple logic to deal with his running backs, Powell still had to figure out the problems on special teams.

After redshirt freshman Kirk Christodoulou struggled while serving as holder and punter and Pitt’s punt coverage unit gave up a touchdown against Penn State, Powell kept everyone on course.

The return of previously injured holder Jake Scarton helped, and Christodoulou improved his punting average from 33.7 yards to 39 against Georgia Tech. The Ramblin’ Wreck returned only two of his six punts.

“Give Penn State credit. They took advantage of our errors,” Powell said.

“Our kids came back. They fought back. They were embarrassed. They should have been. I was embarrassed.”

But it took only one game for Powell’s guys to respond and rebound.

“They played the way we expected them to play.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or
via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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