Saturday, September 20, 2014

GAME DAY IOWA; the Hawkeyes hit the road for a game in ACC Country vs. the Pittsburgh Panthers @ Heinz Field

The Hawekeyes and Panthers square off in this Big Ten-
ACC showdown on ESPNU in Week 4 of '14.

Pittsburgh, PA -- The Iowa Hawkeyes (2-1) face a huge hurdle in their first road game of the 2014 season at the Pittsburgh Panthers (3-0, 1-0 ACC Coastal division) with an 11 a.m. game on ESPNU from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Hawkeyes look to rebound, after a disappointing home lost in their Cy-Hawk Game with Iowa State in a 20-17 defeat at historic Kinnick Stadium.

The Pitt-Iowa game could develop into a game of strengths, with the undefeated Panthers averaging Go Panthers!344.3 yards a game rushing the football on offense, while the Hawkeyes have allowed only 65.7 yards rushing, while on defense in the early 2014 season.

"It is going to come down to who wants it more and that will determine who is going to win that battle," said Iowa senior defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat. "We have an opportunity to make some plays and we accept the challenge."

Pittsburgh's rushing attack (344.3) is fourth in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Sophomore running back James Conner has carried the ball 81 times for 544 yards (6.7 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns. Only Aaron Jones on UTEP has more yards on the ground this season.

"It will be a big test for us and we look forward to it up front," said Iowa senior defensive tackle Carl Davis. "It is going to be a new stage compared to the teams we have been playing, but we look forward to the challenge and how we match up."

Iowa is sixth (65.7) in NCAA FBS against the rush and has 19 tackles for loss. Trinca-Pasat leads the way with four tackles for loss, followed by junior defensive end Drew Ott (3.5) and senior linebacker Quinton Alston (three).

"It is going to come down to who wants it more and that will determine who is going to win that battle. We have an opportunity to make some plays and we accept the challenge."
Louis Trinca-Pasat
Iowa defensive tackle

"I love physical football so this is a great test for us," Alston said. "It is a test that we need especially since we are about to go into Big Ten play. I feel good; it's going to be a race to the ball and I want to be the first to the ball and try to get some TFLs (tackles for loss) out of it."

Iowa and Pitt have played twice since 2008, with each team winning a tight game on its home field. In 2008, the Panthers held on for a 21-20 victory despite 147 rushing yards from Hawkeye Shonn Greene. In 2011, Iowa overcame a 24-3 third-quarter deficit by scoring the final three touchdowns -- two to wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley -- to post a 31-27 win.

"It was a great atmosphere and it was a big win for that team at that point," Martin-Manley said of the 2011 matchup. "Being a young guy, you're confident, but at the same time when you don't see the plays happen you kind of get down. When you do see those plays, you're like `alright I can do it' because you have done it before."

The Panthers have a new head coach, since the two games earlier in the four game series Iowa-Pitt are playing. Former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is in his third season at the helm at Pitt.

Chryst said the following of Iowa's head coach ahead of today's game: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kirk Ferentz, and it’s going to be a well-coached team. He believes in physical offense, physical defense. It’s always going to be a challenge. I’m excited for our guys to play. It’s going to be a good atmosphere. It’ll be a good physical game, and we’ve got to rise up and meet that challenge. It’s a great opportunity for us. The amount of success that he’s had for a long time—there’s a lot of programs across the country trying to do that.”

Iowa head coach Ferentz said statistics after three weeks -- like rankings -- tell something, but not everything. He was referring to the Panthers running for 1,033 yards and passing for 304. They can do both well, Ferentz warns.

"Pitt isn't throwing the ball much right now because they haven't had to." Ferentz said. "They can throw the ball." Sophomore Tyler Boyd is the #1 wide receiver and top return specialist in the Panthers attack.

The Hawkeyes have not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Ball State ran the ball 39 times for a total of 90 yards -- 81 coming from running back Jahwan Edwards. Northern Iowa rushed 25 times for 25 yards and Iowa State attempted 26 runs for 82 yards.

"It's going to be a real challenge (slowing Conner)," Ferentz said. "He's strong and fast. He has the ability to see and pick holes. They're big and athletic up front. It's a tough group to prepare for."

"The statistics reflect what they are," said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday at his weekly news conference inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "They're a very good football team, and we have a big challenge ahead of us."

Pitt's James Conner leads the nation
 in rushing TDs (eight) and is second
in rush yards (544).

The Panthers' offense has been potent early, ranking 15th nationally at 44.7 points per game in victories over Delaware, at Boston College, and at Florida International. Pittsburgh ranks fourth nationally at running the football, with 181.3 coming from Conner, while sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik is second in rushing for the Panthers.

"Pitt is not throwing for much right now because they haven't had to," said Ferentz. "They've demonstrated they can run it, and they've run it against everybody. When you look at the film, they're impressive up front and the running back is a good player."

Ferentz sees a lot of Wisconsin in the Panthers and for good reason. Chryst was a member of Bret Bielema's staff in Madison in 2002 and served as the Badgers' offensive coordinator from 2005-11.

Ferentz said the Iowa offense has shown glimpses this season with long and productive drives, but the trouble has been consistency. He is steadfast in the identity he seeks offensively.

"One thing I am firm on, we have to have the ability to be balanced, and we would hopefully play in a physical nature," he said. "We're not going to be a finesse offensive football team. We have to have the ability to run or pass."

Iowa's rushing attack should be back at full strength at Pittsburgh after gaining 129 yards on 44 attempts against Iowa State. Ferentz expects junior Jordan Canzeri to play against Pittsburgh after getting dinged up on a kick return against the Cyclones. Canzeri has been dinged in fall camp and during the last couple of games for Iowa.

Iowa is also trying to find the right mix and rhythm to get sophomore LeShun Daniels, Jr., back in the mix. Daniels, Jr., didn't have an attempt against Iowa State on Sept. 13. He scored the first touchdown of the season for Iowa during the early part of the UNI game.

"We're not ruling anything out (with LeShun)," said Ferentz. "We haven't found the right rhythm or tempo. We'll keep working at it." Iowa senior running backs Mark Wesiman and Damon Bullock saw most game action vs. Iowa State. Freshman Jonathan Parker is another running back, who has seen game action during the 2014 season.

Ferentz confirmed sophomore Anthony Gair will make his first start at free safety at Pittsburgh, filling in for junior Jordan Lomax, who will miss the first half after being ejected for targeting against Iowa State -- a rule Ferentz says is hard to officiate.

"There are going to be a lot of mixed opinions," said Ferentz. "My feeling when it all started was when everybody in the stadium says, `Whoa,' that's when a guy should get tossed out. I thought Jordan was trying to avoid targeting. That was my view of it, but it's easier said than done."
Ferentz is stressing the importance of moving on from a last-second loss to Iowa State.

"We all have to move on," he said. "Whether we win or lose, that's how it goes. We can worry about it out-of-season. We need to worry about what we're doing and matching up against our opponent.
"People that can't do that aren't going to do very well over the long haul. That's how it is, and it's easier said than done."

ESPNU will have Adam Amin and John Congemi, a former Pitt QB from 1982-86, in the booth, with Niki Noto on the sidelines. Kickoff is scheduled for 11:01 a.m. Central Time.

The Hawkeyes have never won at Pitt over years. Pitt leads the series 3-2, with the average score Pitt 22-20, so another tight, close ball game could be on store in 2014?

This is the third game ever between the teams at Pitt. It is hard to rally and call it "three's a charm" for Iowa, with the last game at Heinz Field in 2008.

The Panthers are eyeing a 4-0 start for the first time since the 2000 season. The Panthers were 7-6, 3-5 for sixth in the ACC Coastal division in '13.

Iowa coach Ferentz is a graduate of nearby Upper St. Clair High School and served as a graduate assistant on Jackie Sherrill's 1980 Pitt coaching staff. He left Pitt for Iowa, becoming former Iowa head coach J. Hayden Fry's offensive line coach in 1981. The Hawkeyes ended a 19 season non-winning streak in Ferentz's first year, winning the Big Ten and representing the Big Ten in Fry's first Rose Bowl trip.

Iowa needs the offensive line to elevate their game in 2014 at Pitt, if Iowa is going to pull off a road win. The Hawkeyes front 7 and secondary will be tested, as well by Pitt.

“You’ve got good players and a good scheme, that’s always a key part of it. You’ve got to work to get yards on them. It’s a sound defense, and they’ve got good players. Whatever you get, you’ll earn. It’s fun to play them that way because nothing will be given,” said Pitt coach Chryst in talking about the Iowa defense.

Keys to the Game:

  • Turnovers and miscues
  • Establishing control of the line of scrimmage
  • Explosive plays
  • Special teams
While there isn't a lot of series history between Iowa and Pitt, both teams often see each other on the recruiting trail. Pitt true frosh WR Adonis Jennings' recruitment came down to Iowa and Pitt, for example.

Pitt is favored to win today's game. 

Iowa needs a spark, whether it is via turnover, the offense, defense and/or special teams delivering an explosive play. Iowa needs to establish something for more than two drives. It has been a struggle for Iowa week to week in '14. A coming out party at Pitt is a tall order. 

Phil Steele heading into 2014 called Pittsburgh a big question-mark, with the need to replace DT Aaron Donald, who was the most dominate Panther last year. The Panthers beat Bowling Green 30-27 in the Little Caesars Bowl in '13.

If Iowa is going to give Pitt a game today, the Hawkeyes will have to establish the line of scrimmage. Other than against the run this season, Iowa has not accomplished that ability very well in '14.

The 2008 and 2011 games are over. The only constant has been Iowa's head coach Kirk Ferentz. It is a homecoming for Iowa's ole ball coach. Can he lead his team to his first victory at Pitt?

We shall see. Last week, we called for a 25-15 win. Heck, maybe we were a week early? We shall see indeed.

In 1999, Iowa fans watched Ron Dayne roll over Iowa. It was an ugly game for the Hawkeyes. It is more likely a game that will be close today. Iowa will need turnovers and a spark going into Heinz Field.

Will the grass be greener for the Home Team or Visitors from the Big Ten?

No comments: