Iowa at Pittsburgh: What 2 Watch 4
|The Hawkeyes will be looking to remain perfect and improve their record to 4-0 on Saturday as they travel to Pittsburgh for their first road test of the season. Iowa has struggled away from Kinnick in recent years having lost 7 of their last 8 road games. Pittsburgh has had two weeks to prepare for the Hawkeyes after a bye last weekend. The Panthers started this season ranked in the Top 25 before dropping their season opener to Bowling Green 27-17. Pitt defeated Buffalo 27-16 at home in week 2 to improve to 1-1 on the season. Here are a few things to watch for as the Hawkeyes travel out of state for the first time this season.|
Iowa Run Defense
The Hawkeye defense will face their toughest test of the season so far on Saturday when they face off against Pittsburgh’s sophomore sensation, running back LeSean McCoy. Through Iowa’s first three games, opponents are rushing for only 88.7 yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry. McCoy will be the best back the Hawkeye run defense has seen so far this season. McCoy rushed for 1,328 yards and scored 14 touchdowns last year as a freshman, and he has already scored 4 touchdowns in Pitt’s two games this season. Iowa will have their work cut out for them this weekend if they plan to keep the streak of holding opponents without a touchdown alive for another week.
Of course the Hawkeyes have their own running attack on the other side of the field in the name of Shonn Greene. Greene has been more than impressive during the non-conference schedule rushing for over 100 yards in all three Hawkeye victories. He has also scored a touchdown in each of Iowa’s first three games. The only thing Greene hasn’t done is carry the ball more than 22 times. For Iowa to win at Pittsburgh, they are going to want to ride Shonn Greene and get him at least 25 carries against a good Panther defense. So far this season, Pitt is giving up an average of 94.5 rushing yards per game. The key to their success is middle linebacker Scott McKillop, an All-American candidate who led the nation last season in tackles. Hawkeye fans will find out a lot about Iowa’s improved offensive line and running game on Saturday at Pittsburgh. If the Hawkeyes give the ball to Shonn Greene at least 25 times and he can rush for over 100 yards again, they will be in very good shape no matter who is taking the snaps at quarterback.
Youth on Defense
One of the main keys for Iowa’s success on defense is the emergence of young stars in the secondary like redshirt freshman safety Tyler Sash and sophomore cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash had a goal line interception and recorded 8 tackles against Iowa State, which was second most on the team behind only linebacker A.J. Edds. True freshman Shaun Prater and sophomore Diauntae Morrow have also seen a lot of playing time in Iowa’s dime and nickel packages. Prater came up huge last weekend against Iowa State knocking down a pass in the endzone on 4th down late in the game. With all these young faces contributing this early in the season, the future of Iowa football looks bright.
Most of the experts are expecting a defense dominated close game on Saturday. Pittsburgh opened up as 2.5 point favorites in Vegas, but the line has moved in Iowa’s favor throughout the week, with Pitt currently only a 1-point favorite. This one may very well come down to a field goal for the Hawkeyes to win a close game on the road. So far this season, Iowa has rotated kicking duties between Trent Mossbrucker and Daniel Murray. Mossbrucker has made 3 of 4 field goals on the year with a long of 35 yards. Murray generally handles the deeper kicks and has made 1 of 2 through Iowa’s first three games. On the other sideline, Pittsburgh’s kicker Conor Lee is the Big East’s active career leader with a field goal percentage of 83.3 percent. He is 3-4 this season after making 18 of 22 field goal attempts last year.
Of course most of the talk amongst fans this week has once again been focused on the quarterbacks. After Jake Christensen spelled Ricky Stanzi in the second half of Iowa’s win against Iowa State, it sounds like the junior Christensen will be back under center to start on Saturday. As long as the Hawkeyes can get Shonn Greene going and play well defensively again it probably won’t matter who ends up taking most of the snaps. Whether Jake or Stanzi start, Iowa’s recipe for success this season will be solid defense, a strong running game, and limiting turnovers on offense, and Saturday will be no different. If the Hawkeyes can succeed in those three areas, they will find themselves a perfect 4-0 going into the Big Ten conference season.