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FOUR FACTOR FRIDAY: IOWA VS PITT

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An alliterative look at the keys to the game for Iowa vs. Pitt.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Night game. Stripes. Robert Gallery. Brett Greenwood. Go. Iowa. Awesome.

Explosive Plays

Though Iowa dominated in the trenches it was ultimately big plays that tipped the game last weekend in its favor. A 48-yard bomb on 3rd-and-crazy long. A 44-yard dash after narrowly avoiding a sack. A 34-yard punt return setting up the game winning score. And on and on. It’s something that Greg Davis likes to talk about and it was apparent against Iowa State that C.J. Beathard is capable of making those types of plays.

And Pitt has been somewhat susceptible to big plays. While their defense is aggressive and generally very solid it does take risks and does get burnt. Akron last week couldn’t throw at all in the rain, but did have a 32-yard run right up the middle when the Panthers' safeties abandoned the middle of the field to play man coverage on the outside. The week before, Youngstown State had touchdowns of 27, 75, and 77 yards. Pitt was burnt a few times by speed getting to the edge. If Akrum Wadley gets a chance to make up for his woes, he might be able to make some plays against this defense.

Pitt’s offense also relies on getting big chunks of yards in one play. They have been mediocre at extending drives, converting 12 of 29 (41%) 3rd downs in their first two games and going 0 for 1 in fourth down conversions. The Panther offense mostly likes to run a power game: fullbacks, pulling guards, a few toss plays… Against Youngstown they were able to break a couple of those runs, but against Akron they were held in check and only averaged 2.7 yards per rush.

Pitt’s passing game…I don’t even know. They’ve been rotating QBs and haven’t named a starter for tomorrow yet. I expect the backup Nathan Peterman to get the nod. He’s been a tiny bit better than the incumbent, Chad Voytik. Their numbers look very similar…14/21 versus 15/22 and they both have 1 TD and 1 pick. The difference is that Peterman has thrown for twice as many yards. He’s the QB who will throw it long and make plays down the field. Really, though, the passing game is totally reliant on Tyler Boyd, as Mike wrote about yesterday. In one game he had as many receptions as the team did in their first game (when Boyd was suspended).

Marshall Koehn

While everyone has been talking about Koehn’s fake field goals and his 12 yard-per-rush average, he has been a privilege to have kicking the ball. While Pitt’s kicker has missed two field goals already this year, Koehn is 2-for-2 and made a 49-yarder look easy against the Cyclones.

That's not to mention Koehn’s work on kickoffs. He’s had 7 touchbacks in 11 kicks, and the few returns haven’t gone far. Those extra yards are important each time, especially in the field position game that Iowa likes to play. Pitt has had some success this year on kick returns already -- Avonte Maddox took one to the house in Week 1, and the team is averaging over 27 yards per return on 8 returns.

Pitt’s kicker has been getting his share of touchbacks as well with (8 out of 13) and opponents are averaging 22 yards per return (same as Iowa’s opponents). But could this be the week that Desmond King starts to figure out kick returns too? It took him all game long against ISU, but he finally had a great looking punt return at the end of the gme there. I think he can be a real threat as a kick returner, too.

If this game is close tomorrow, I’d feel very comfortable with Koehn being the difference for a game winner. I don’t think Pitt fans could say the same.

Under Pressure

Two weeks ago, Iowa’s defensive line lived in Illinois State’s backfield. Tre Roberson didn’t have any time and couldn’t get anything going. The second half Saturday against the other ISU was more of the same. They got to Richardson four times for sacks, and also got close enough to really throw off his timing and confidence in the late stages of the game.

Will Drew Ott play? I would think it’d be pretty hard to go aggressively and get any leverage against a big OT with an injured elbow. Parker Hesse played well in the second half, though, and the others along the D-line stepped up as well. Iowa should have a chance to do the same against Pitt.

The Pitt offensive line has given up 7 sacks already this year, which is right up there with Iowa State in the bottom 10 of FBS teams. Even with Ott out, I think Iowa’s defensive line will be quite the step up from Youngstown State and Akron. With a pretty one-dimensional passing attack, I expect Iowa to bracket Boyd, be aggressive with the other receivers and get after the QB—similar to its strategy in the 2nd half last week. Neither Pitt quarterback is a huge running threat (though they aren’t bad; Voytik had over 400 yards last year on the ground), so I think less "contain" and more "get after him."

Clean It Up

Three games into the season, and it is time to work the kinks out. There were a lot of little mistakes made over the first three quarters or so against Iowa State: dropped passes, fumbles, poor decision in the return game, etc. The good thing was that the players making those mistakes made up for them and more as the Hawkeyes closed out the game extremely strong. Hopefully that trends continues and we’ll see Iowa executing at a high level under the lights.

The one thing to watch was that there have been a few too many penalties thus far this season: 11 for 101 yards. Opponents have gotten seven first downs off of Iowa penalties. The defense has given up 32 first downs, which is pretty good; currently 43rd in the country. Taking out all seven first downs by penalty, though, the D shoots up to 11th in the nation. Teams haven’t been able to drive on Iowa very well without Iowa helping them out.

Prediction

Pitt’s defense is going to be better than the previous two that Iowa has faced. That said, I think C.J. Beathard and company are going to be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’ve seen all the tricks in the bag yet. Iowa breaks off a few long runs, Beathard does his thing, the long shot is pulled out for something other than 3rd-and-21 and Iowa keeps on pace and puts up 31.

I think the defense makes Pitt one-dimensional and absorbs some blows from their rushing attack. But as the game goes on, the Panthers will be forced to throw. Iowa will get pressure, the secondary will make plays and the Hawkeyes win under the lights in Kinnick for the first time in three years.

Final Score: Iowa 31 - Pitt 20