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IOWA VS. PITT PREVIEW 2014: JAMES CONNER IS A WORLD-CRUSHER

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Iowa looks to rebound from a heartbreaking loss to Iowa State, and Pitt's hard-nosed brand of football poses a new challenge.

This man is a monster. A manster.
This man is a monster. A manster.
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Our team fell victim to the Cyclones on Saturday and now sits meekly at 2-1. Iowa must now hit the road for the first time to face Pittsburgh in the final non-conference game of the season. But who is this "Pitt," really? Where is it? Does anyone really know? Here's what we can tell you.

The Vitals

Name: University of Pittsburgh Panthers

Location: Parts Unknown

Record: 3-0 (1-0)

Last game: W 42-25 at FIU

Ranking: unranked (44 votes in AP, 5 votes in Coaches)

The Leaders

Passing: Chad Voytik, 29-50, 284 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs

Rushing: James Conner, 81 rushes, 544 yards, 8 TDs

Receiving: Tyler Boyd, 11 catches, 140 yards, 4 TDs

Tackles: Anthony Gonzalez, 15 tackles

Tackles For Loss: Gonzalez and three others, 2.0 TFL; eight players tied with 1.0 sacks

Interceptions: Terrish Webb, 2 INTs

The Lowdown

Offense

Pitt's offense isn't one-dimensional, but it knows its strength and hits it hard. That is James Conner, a rampaging beastman at 6'2" and 250 pounds who already has 544 yards (second-best in the FBS and only eight yards away from UTEP's Aaron Jones) and eight scores on the year. Conner is a certifiable problem for any defense Pitt might face this year, as he's got agility and speed to go with his size. Think Nick Bell's ridiculous frame, Marcus Coker's penchant for direct contact and Le'Veon Bell's footwork.

If this all sounds superlative, yes, exactly. It should. Conner is a nightmare.

If there's good news for Iowa, it's that the Pitt offensive line still needs to round into form. FIU You'll see a few runs above where Boston College gets significant penetration (LOL) at the point of attack, and though it still often resulted in a big run for Conner, this is a highlight reel; BC was able to stop him a few times on defensive efforts that Iowa should be able to get fairly regularly.

FIU gave Conner fits early, and that doesn't even include his two first-half fumbles. Conner hit his stride later and still finished with a frightening 31-177-3 line, of course, but a fair goal for Iowa's defense (currently ranked seventh in the nation) is do, y'know, do better than FIU.

Chad Voytik is hardly a great quarterback—and Pitt hardly uses him, accordingly—but he's got a top receiver in Tyler Boyd who's one of the best Iowa will face this year. Boyd's ball skills are sensational, and Voytik has the requisite faith in his receiver to come down with a jump ball. In other words, it's not enough to just provide close enough coverage that Voytik won't throw the ball. This isn't Jake Rudock we're talking about. Voytik's throwing the thing anyway and there's a pretty good chance that it'll, y'know, work. So get ready for the attacks, Desmond King and Greg Mabin. Pitt's coming right for you.

Defense

Pitt could trot out 11 man-sized Weebles and Jake Rudock would still panic and throw the checkdown. Unfortunately, Pitt has actual human defenders, and as with the previous three teams who also fielded 11-human defenses, this will be a major problem for the Hawkeyes.

Pitt loses Aaron Donald, but the defense still has an active, deep, balanced front that has wrought havoc with the Panthers' first three opponents of the season. The results are unequivocal: 19 tackles for loss for the team, including nine sacks; 232 yards rushing allowed on 98 attempts; 7.3 punts per game forced; and a time of possession advantage of almost nine minutes per game.

Linebacker Anthony Gonzalez is the leading tackler, but safety Ray Vinopal (who, despite his name, is not a 1950s boxer) is the most decorated of the returning starters, having been an honorable mention All-ACC player last year. Vinopal—a Michigan transfer early on in his college career—can create turnovers at an alarming rate, so obviously Rudock's not going to throw at him (problem solved!).  He boasts a surprising versatility, lining up all over the field and even blitzing on some occasions, so Iowa's going to need an exemplary performance from its coaches and personnel to neutralize that threat.

Pitt can be thrown on, even if none of its previous opponents have done so particularly well. Rudock's likely the best QB Pitt will have faced thus far (I know, I know), so it'll be interesting to see how Iowa tries to attack that defense. Please don't tell me running 45 times is part of that plan, though. Do something that works. This I beg.

In Sum

This game terrifies me because the thought of Iowa playing another football game so soon after the ISU debacle terrifies me. It's Iowa's first game of the 2014 in a truly hostile environment, and though Heinz Field isn't really a cathedral of college football or a monument to rabid Pitt Panther fandom, it'll be loud and scary enough that the Hawkeyes' mettle will be tested.

It's simple, though: can Iowa's front four keep Conner in check? Can the Hawkeyes move the chains more reliably? If so this is probably a close game. If not, god help us all.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 20, Iowa 17