On Offense: Running Back vs. Defensive Line
Obviously, running back is the biggest offensive concern for Iowa on Saturday night. Should LeShun Daniels not be available, Jordan Canzeri will handle a bulk of the rushing responsibilities. But who is number two? Derrick Mitchell or Akrum Wadley? Wadley's story is well known. Fast, elusive, fumble prone. Mitchell, who garnered a lot of press this week due to his suspension and prompt reinstatement, has yet to actually show anything on the football field. As Pat wrote a month ago:
Mitchell was recruited as a wide receiver and spent his first two seasons in that group, but his work on Iowa's scout team in 2014, particularly as a stand-in for Melvin Gordon, turned enough heads to earn him a position change. He busted a few runs in the spring game, racking up 53 yards on more than seven yards per carry, but the odds of him navigating through this depth chart still look fairly slim. Barring a particularly heavy AIRBHG plague, he's probably primarily a special teams guy in 2015.
There hasn't necessarily been a plague, but AIRBHG's presence has definitely been felt since the injury to Daniels and Iowa is looking for a no 2.
Regardless of who goes, they'll face a veteran defensive line that is anchored by 6'2, 300lb senior Darryl Render. Last season at defensive tackle he amassed six TFL and four pass breakups. He's not a pass rusher by any means, but he will stuff the run. Lined up next to Render is junior nose tackle, Tyrique Jarrett. At 6'3, 335, he's the biggest guy on Pitt's defensive line. He played a reserve role last year but in his two 2015 starts he's accumulated four TFL and a sack. If Render is the run stuffer, Jarrett is the guy who will terrorize a running back (and a quarterback) in the backfield.
After missing the entirety of 2014 due to a chest injury, senior Ejuan Price gets the nod at defensive end. Price isn't very big, standing only 6'0, 250lbs, but he's quick and has good hands. In two games he's already garnered a sack, forced a fumble and broken up a pass. He's your typical speed rush guy who will get the running back to hesitate. Opposite of Price is Rori Blair, who started last season against Iowa but fell into the mix and didn't reemerge until last week against Akron. He made quite an impact, however, notching two TFL and a sack.
On Defense: Wide Receiver (Boyd) vs. Cornerback (King)
Prior to James Conner going down with a season-ending injury, Pittsburg's featured unit would've been running back. And it's true that his replacement, Qadree Ollison is 6'2, 230lbs of pure terrormonster who rushed against 207 yards against Youngstown State in week one. However, last week he only managed 81 yards on 21 carries and averaged 3.9 YPC against Akron. While he's still a cause for concern, the true enemy of Iowa's defense on Saturday night is Tyler Boyd.
Tyler Boyd is a problem. As a freshman, the 6'2 200lb wide receiver broke Larry Fitzgerald's records in receptions and yards. As a sophomore, he averaged 148.3 all-purpose yards per game and had eight receiving touchdowns. Last season against Iowa he caught 10 balls for 153 yards and had a long of 39 yards. Somehow, he was kept out of the end zone. If you'd like to see highlights to remind you who he is, here:
Boyd can beat you with his speed but as that video shows, he really doesn't have to. He has tremendous (Kirk Ferentz buzzword) leaping ability and can jump over a cornerback and muscle the ball out of the air. In open space he's terrifying and did I also mention that he returns punts and kicks? Because he returns punts and kicks.
Aside from Boyd...there's not much. As Cardiac Hill explained, wide receiver depth is a serious concern beyond Boyd. The second starter is Dontez Ford, a 6'2, 205lb junior who originally committed to Syracuse before transferring to Pitt. In three years, he's only caught four passes for less than 100 total yards. The guys down the depth chart have equally forgettable numbers. So how important is Boyd? Well, consider that he was suspended the first game of the season and he still leads the team in receptions with 11. Every other wide receiver on the roster has two receptions or less. So, yeah. It's basically Tyler Boyd vs. Desmond King with the rest of Pitt's wide receivers playing the role of decoys.
The king is dead. Long live the King.