Last season, Iowa came back from a 10-point deficit to hand the Panthers their first loss on their home field. I was pretty much sick in my seat, as Pitt blew a game in which they were in control.
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Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard led the comeback and is the starter this season. Pitt, with a better defensive scheme by Josh Conklin, should be prepared and ready for their first true test of the season.
Pitt edged Youngstown State in a 45-37 shootout, in which the defense had some lapses on big touchdown plays. The Panthers eliminated those in their next game at Akron, in which new head coach Pat Narduzzi aided Pitt in some revenge from their upset last year. Can Narduzzi continue the revenge tour against Iowa?
Narduzzi will look to attain stability at Pitt, similar to Kirk Ferentz, who is coaching his 17th season at Iowa.
Pitt (2-0) will face Big Ten foe Iowa (2-0), led by Ferentz, who had grown up in Pittsburgh and was a graduate assistant for Pitt in the 1980s. The game will be at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City at 8PM tomorrow. It will be on the Big Ten Network in primetime.
All three matchups since 2008 have been decided by 4 points or less, and the Hawkeyes got the best of Pitt last season 24-20.
Iowa opened the season with a 31-14 win over Illinois State, followed by a 31-17 road win against Big 12 rival Iowa State. Quarterback Beathard has completed 30 of 49 passes for 426 yards and 4 touchdowns thus far. The leading rusher is LeShun Daniels Jr. who has 34 carries for 179 yards, while Jordan Canzeri has 29 carries for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns. Daniels hurt his right ankle against Iowa State, so they may be missing their leading rusher. Pitt knows the feeling, as ACC Player of the Year James Conner is out for the season with a torn MCL.
The leading receiver for Iowa is Matt VandeBerg who has 15 catches for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns, so the Pitt secondary will need to be ready for the Beathard to VandeBerg connection. Last week against Akron, true freshman Jordan Whitehead got the start at safety for Pitt, and he played very well in a monsoon.
Did the Pitt defense improve last week, or was the Akron offense slowed by the torrential rain? I think it may have been a combination of both, but we will know what Pitt has against a tough, scrappy Iowa squad.
On the offensive side of the ball, running backs Qadree Ollison, Chris James, and Darrin Hall will look to fill the huge void left by Conner’s injury. Furthermore, the starting quarterback has not been named for Pitt. Last week, junior transfer Nate Peterman replaced Chad Voytik and played the majority of the game against Akron. Voytik has failed at making the big play and often depends on throwing to Tyler Boyd. As I said in my preview, for Pitt to be good this season, they will need exceptional quarterback play. Without Conner, the QB is an even bigger part of Pitt’s success.
I think Peterman will get the nod as starter tomorrow night, and I hope he responds positively. One of Iowa’s best defensive players, defensive end Drew Ott, is questionable with an arm injury, so Peterman may have one less problem to worry about.
I think there are two keys to tomorrow’s game:
2) The defense will need to pressure Beathard in a similar style to what we had seen against Youngstown State and Akron. Pressure could lead to turnovers.
Iowa will aim at their third straight win against Pitt, but I think the Panthers are ready for some revenge. Tomorrow night will be a true test and give us a better idea of how tough Pitt will be this season.