Friday, September 19, 2008

Iowa @ Pitt: First road test for Hawkeyes in '08

Another Big Ten vs. Big East match up against two teams looking to grab some momentum before conference play begins for '08.

Iowa (3-0) will meet Pitt (1-1) at Heinz Field, in Pittsburgh, Saturday at 11 am on ESPN2. It will be the first meeting between the two teams, since 1952. Pitt is a slight favorite at home.

The Hawkeyes and Panthers both entered the season looking to redeem their programs, after a couple of years of down times. The Hawkeyes haven't had a winning season, since 2005, while the Panthers have been shut out of a bowl game, since 2004.

The Hawkeyes will bring a two-quarterback attack to Heinz field on Saturday. Junior Jake Christensen will make his second start of the season, with sophomore Ricky Stanzi in relief for Week 4. Pittsburgh will counter with junior QB Bill Stull at the helm. Ball security will be important for both teams. Stull had a rough freshmen season as the primary starter. Christensen for Iowa is usually good at keeping mistakes to a minimum, but his consistency will be tested as he battles to be the #1 quarterback for Iowa.

The running game will be something to watch on Saturday. Iowa lost all three running backs from '07, but junior Shonn Greene has ran for three straight 100-yard games, since returning to the Iowa team, after spending '07 focusing on academics at a JUCO. Pitt's top running back, sophomore LeSean McCoy, is looking to get on track in '08, after earning Big East freshman player of the year honors in '07.

The real area to watch in this game is the line-play. The strong suit for both team is the defensive front, so it will be interesting to see, which O-Line finishes stronger in this match up. Iowa appears to have the edge in O-Line, but this will be the first road test for Iowa, so one will have to see how the players respond to their first road test.

Special teams are always important. Iowa from 2002 to 2004 excelled in special teams. The potential is there for Iowa in '08, after three lack luster seasons in this phase.

Pitt is coming off a bye week. Iowa is coming off an important 17-5 win over in-state rival, Iowa State. Pitt is just 1-5 vs. non-conference BCS teams.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt both have college and NFL experience, with Wannstedt having the head coaching experience at the next level. Both teams are needing to heal some past wounds from the past several seasons.

It should be a classic battle between two football teams that haven't meet lately. It should be a good game, despite the problems of either program the past several seasons.

My pick:

Iowa 23
Pitt 16

Iowa wins the battle of the line of scrimmage and pulls out another important road test, to follow up road wins at Miami-OH (2002) and at Syracuse (2006). Iowa has won 3 of 4 in the State of PA, since 2000 (all four games were in Happy Valley).


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