Opponent: Pittsburgh Panthers (2-0, 2 votes received in Amway Coaches Poll)
Saturday, September 19, 7 p.m., Kinnick Stadium
Television: Big Ten Network
Kickoff weather: 64 degrees, clear, with temperatures dropping into 50s.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: I think we got a big shot here. Pirates are vulnerable away from home, we don't gotta go to Three Rivers.
WHEN PITTSBURGH HAS THE BALL
When James Conner went down with an MCL injury, Iowa might have thought it was dodging the bullet of one of the most prolific rushers of 2014. Pitt instead features... one of the most prolific rushers of 2015: Qadree Ollison. Pitt's freshman cuts a familiar frame at 6'2", 230 pounds and runs with purpose and ferocity. Pitt's offensive line cooperated ably as Ollison topped 200 yards against Youngstown State, often hitting the second level without anything but the most cursory of contact. Akron held him to a more pedestrian 81 yards on 21 carries, due in large part to the Zips' ability to limit big plays (Ollison's longest rush was 11 yards) but his size and patience help him fall forward and it'll be tough for Iowa to keep him from getting those extra yards as well.
First-year head coach Pat Narduzzi has quickly learned what Iowa fans could have told him after last year's contest: Chad Voytik isn't going to win the Panthers a whole lot of games by himself. Nate Peterman played most of the Akron game, driving the Panthers to all three of their touchdowns and a drive with a missed field goal.
To that end, Peterman was named starter by Narduzzi today, though like with the first two weeks, both quarterbacks are expected to play this Saturday. I wrote this sentence on Wednesday night before Narduzzi made any announcement, but if it doesn't work out just like this, it'll be quite the... Duzz-y.
I regret nothing.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: I tell you who can throw the ball, is this Coal kid. You think we're gonna see him? I don't think AJ Barnett is so good, he was only all right with the Yankees back then. I don't wanna see no Coal. Cole? Specially at Three Rivers.
Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Narduzzi noted Voytik and Peterman aren't particularly different quarterbacks in terms of skill set, so Iowa shouldn't expect much of a departure in playcalling when either QB is in the game. The formula is pretty much the same as against Iowa State: play a base defense, let Desmond King do as much as he can on the best target (in this situation, Tyler Boyd), blitz situationally, and respect the scramble a little bit. It's not brain rockets, or whatever.
If there's any good news about Drew Ott, who suffered a still-unspecified arm injury at Iowa State last week, Kirk Ferentz hasn't been forthcoming with it. He's on the depth chart, but from a strategic standpoint, the only way Ferentz would let Pitt know days in advance that Ott is out is if Drew left his arm on Jack Trice Field. That didn't happen, because if it did Jaleel Johnson would have clubbed Sam B. Richardson to death with it by halftime. Parker Hesse was decent in relief, but he's got to be a force this week.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: Parker? They still got Dave Parker? Ah hell, man, that guy can rake. Dang. You know who else could rake is Clemente, you kiddin' me?
WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL
Speaking of tight-lippitude about injuries, there's no news on LeShun Daniels, who had to watch from the sidelines as Jordan Canzeri took over the second half finishing with 124 yards and the game-icing touchdown. Canzeri also coughed up a fumble inside ISU's 10 on what would have been the go-ahead drive, so Ferentz would love to have his most trustworthy tailback in to take most of the carries—especially with fellow fumbleitis sufferer Akrum Wadley ostensibly next in line. Ask your doctor today about Giveleshunitol.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: I take that for my prostate. It'll happen to you too. You think you're gonna be 24 forever then one day you're dribblin' five times a night and[EDITOR'S NOTE: We don't need to continue this.]
The Hawkeyes will be facing a rather stout defense; Pitt has allowed just 5.5 yards per pass and 3.3 yards per carry, which is a little more instructive than the 44 points it has allowed in the two games. Nicholas Grigsby, who is not the same Nic Grigsby who played tailback at Arizona a few years ago, has led the Panthers in tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks and quarterback hurries this season and will prove the toughest test yet for Iowa's still-green offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger.
Of course, neither Youngstown State nor Akron have C.J. Beathard calling the shots, and his performance early this year has been light years ahead the likes of Akron's two-QB horror show or what YSU got out of Hunter Wells, whom you've never heard of before right now. Make no mistake: Avonte Maddox (who will come up again) and Lafayette Pitts are easily the strongest set of cornerbacks Iowa has faced yet and one of the best they'll get all year. If Tevaun Smith is the NFL prospect we want him to be, he'll have to make himself available early and often against talent like this.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: You know the Hawk I wanna see, is Andre Dawson. I don't give a damn what anyone says, he deserved that '87 MVP award. He got any eligibility?
Against Youngstown State, Pitt got a nice boost with an 89-yard touchdown return by Maddox, which single-handedly vaulted Maddox (who, again, is a defensive back) into second place in all-purpose yardage for the Panthers (third place at 84 still belongs to James Conner, who we'll remind you played roughly 20 minutes). Iowa should think about not giving up another return TD to Maddox; the rest of Pitt's return game hasn't done much.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: MADDOX? Traitor.
Come on, man. He did what he had to do.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: I don't care if he came back to Chicago when he was old as hell, he left us behind.
He refused to wear an Atlanta hat for the Hall of Fame on account of how much he loves the Cubs!
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: We woulda won multiple World Series with him! There'd be no curse!
He only won one in Atlanta!
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: Then he sucks.
Chris Blewitt has been shaky as a kicker, befitting his name (the Blewitt part, I mean; no disrespect to the Chrissessesses of the world) but he was 16-for-21 last year and kickers generally don't forget how to do their job, so he's due for a correction in Pitt's favor real quick. It's notable that Blewitt is 1-for-3 from behind 30 yards this year, but it's one small data set out of his whole career.
Iowa doesn't have many headaches on special teams, which is a nice change of pace. Dillon Kidd is bombing at punter, with 47.3 yards per boot and going 50+ yards on 43% of his attempts, and The Demon Marshall Koehn is perfect on two long field goals. Desmond King has real return skills and if he can kick (special teams term) the habit of letting punts bounce in front (and subsequently past) him, Iowa can keep eroding opposing net punting average. Pitt punter Ryan Winslow is a hair under 40 yards per kick, but he's getting fair catches on almost half his kicks and Pitt's punt coverage has been solid. Yes, Akron and YSU, but lousy special teams play usually manifests itself before the quality opponents show up.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: You know what ain't fair about quality opponents is the Cubs gotta play more quality opponents than the rest of Major League on account of being in the NL Central. If we were in some other division we got an honest shot and Pitt has to face San Fran or whatever.
Of course, no discussion of Iowa special teams can be complete without mentioning Kirk Ferentz's newfound love of the fake field goal, despite going 0-for-2 in the early going. Clearly Ferentz thinks he's got something figured out in terms of blocking and a swift kicker—Koehn is averaging 12.5 yards per fake, after all—but there's a secondary effect here: Iowa has it on film, twice, that Ferentz is willing to fake it with near-total disregard to situation, which should encourage opposing teams to play safe defense... and subsequently not come after future attempts. KIRK "THE LONG CON" FERENTZ IN EFFECT.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: Betcha Arrieter blows out his arm last game of the year. Happens to us all the time.
Can I finish?
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: Be a nice change of pace from the Cubs.
Iowa 24, Pittsburgh 13
The lack of a clearly superior quarterback means Pittsburgh is limited in what it should expect from its offense, especially from a physical Iowa front seven that doesn't have to worry about being outrun to boundaries.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: We gotta make four games up on these guys before we get the home game. Can't believe you're just assuming we do that. You know what happens when we just assume good things are gonna happen? We got another 100 years of bad things coming just because of you.
Nile won a Heisman 76 years ago and we've had three runners-up since then. Lots of BCS-level bowls. Lots.
Old Neurotic Cubs Fan: Clearly a goat curse.
I'm tired of you.