Iowa, Pitt set for Big Ten-ACC matchup
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The similarities between Pittsburgh and Iowa have helped make their semi-regular series an exciting one.
The Hawkeyes (2-0) and Panthers (2-0) find themselves in much different spots heading into Saturday’s match at Kinnick Stadium
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is one of the nation’s longest-tenured coaches. But Ferentz has shaken things up in his 17th season in Iowa City, with a new-look offense and fake field-goal tries in each of Iowa’s first two games.
Pitt has yet another new coach in Pat Narduzzi, who stymied Iowa and the rest of the Big Ten as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. The Panthers have excelled on defense so far, but they’ve got questions at quarterback and running back after losing star James Conner in the opener.
“Coach Narduzzi is not a good defensive coach; he’s an outstanding defensive coach,” Ferentz said. “It’s more than scheme. It’s the effort that guys are playing with. They are just — I tell you, they are really flying to the football.”
Here are some of the key factors to consider as the Hawkeyes try for their third straight win over Pitt:
FOR STARTERS: Chad Voytik? Nate Peterman? Narduzzi isn’t saying who will be his starting quarterback on Saturday. Voytik has made 15 consecutive starts for Pitt but has failed to produce anything dynamic in the passing game through his first two weeks in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s system. Peterman — a junior transfer from Tennessee — ended up playing the final three quarters in soggy conditions against Akron last week with solid if not spectacular results.
BEATHARD: Quarterback C.J. Beathard has given the Hawkeyes offense a jolt so far. Beathard earned co-offensive player of the week honors in the Big Ten after throwing for 215 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 77 yards in last week’s 31-17 win at Iowa State. Pitt knows what the junior can do after Beathard helped Iowa rally from 10 down to win at Heinz Field last season.
CONNER’S REPLACEMENT: Pitt redshirt freshman running back Qadree Ollison’s first start wasn’t quite as sharp as his dynamic debut. He finished with 81 yards in last week’s 24-7 win over Akron — 126 less than he managed against Youngstown State in the opener, when he was thrust into action following Conner’s injury. “He came in (against Youngstown State) and didn’t have any time to think about being the guy,” Narduzzi said of Ollison. “He had no idea he was going to be the guy. Now that he has an idea he’s the guy, we’ll see how he responds.”
OTT/DANIELS: Iowa could be without two of its best players Saturday. Defensive end Drew Ott is questionable after leaving last week’s game with an undisclosed arm injury, and LeShun Daniels, Jr. hurt his right ankle against the Cyclones. But the Hawkeyes had to be encouraged by their defensive line’s performance in a second-half shutout of Iowa State, and No. 2 running back Jordan Canzeri is averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
CONNECTIONS: Ferentz, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area and was a graduate assistant for the Panthers in 1980, sees parallels between Pitt and many of Iowa’s Big Ten rivalries. The two teams have certainly played like they’re league rivals, as all three matchups since 2008 were decided by four points or less. “There was a real Wisconsin flavor to the ball club a year ago and now you throw the film on there’s a real Michigan State flavor to it. Wish I could say I was smart enough to anticipate that when we got involved in scheduling,” Ferentz said.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.