Scouting the Enemy: Pittsburgh Panthers
Record: 1-1 (L vs Bowling Green, W vs Buffalo)
2007 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Dave Wannstedt (4th Season, 17-20 at Pittsburgh)
All-Time Series: Pittsburgh leads 2-1
Last Meeting: Pittsburgh 26 Iowa 14 (1952 at Pitt)
The Hawkeyes will face their first road test of the season this Saturday when they travel to Pittsburgh for a clash with the Panthers in Heinz Field. The game will serve as a homecoming of sorts for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who spent one season as a grad assistant for Pitt back in 1980 before joining Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa.
The Panthers are coming off a bye week after starting the season 1-1. Pitt defeated Buffalo 27-16 at home in week 2 after dropping their season opener to Bowling Green 27-17. Iowa will make the trip looking to improve to 4-0 on the season. Despite Pittsburgh’s early struggles at home this year, the Panthers should prove to be a tough test for the Hawkeyes. With another game day rapidly approaching, let’s take a closer look at Pitt in this week’s edition of “Scouting the Enemy.”
Any analysis of Pittsburgh’s offense should start with sophomore running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy burst onto the college football landscape last year as a freshman when he rushed for 1,328 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. He had seven 100-yard games last season en route to setting the Big East freshman record for rushing yards. So far this year, McCoy has struggled a bit with 164 yards and 4 TDs in two games. He is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry. Some of that can be attributed to a young and inexperienced offensive line. The Panthers returned only one starter from last year’s offensive line, senior left guard C.J. Davis. Despite early struggles in the running game, McCoy is certainly the best back Iowa will have faced so far this season, and possibly the best the Hawkeye defense will see all year. He has breakaway speed and already has many Pitt fans comparing him to the great Tony Dorsett after just one year on campus.
Pittsburgh is hoping the return of quarterback Bill Stull will give their offense more balance this season after he missed almost all of last year with a thumb injury. Through two games, Stull has thrown for 505 yards on 51 or 84 passing with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. His favorite target is junior receiver Oderick Turner. Turner leads the Panthers with 10 catches and 111 yards this season.
Pittsburgh’s defensive front is very athletic, deep, and experienced. Defensive lineman Austin Ransom has emerged as a solid force on the front four alongside returning starters Mick Williams and Rashaad Duncan at defensive tackle. Pitt has five sacks as a team through two games. The Panthers also returned all three linebackers from last season, including All-American candidate Scott McKillop at middle linebacker. McKillop led the nation in tackles last year and has picked up where he left off with 21 tackles through two games so far this season. The Pitt defense has given up an average of 94.5 yards rushing in their first two games and 206.5 yards passing. Returning starters in the defensive backfield, free safety Eric Thatcher and cornerback Aaron Berry, lead a secondary unit that is expected to be one of the best in the Big East.
Senior kicker Conor Lee is the Big East’s active career leader in field goal percentage at 83.3 percent. He is 3-4 this season after connecting on 18 of 22 field goals last year. Punter Dave Brytus has punted seven times for an average of 39.3 yards this season. He has dropped three of those seven punts inside the 20. Cornerback Aaron Berry returns punts for the Panthers and back-up halfback LaRod Stephens-Howling is Pitt’s most dangerous kick returner. He leads the team this year with a return average of 21 yards.
Pittsburgh’s defense will provide a good test for Iowa’s running attack, and the Hawkeye defense will also need to continue their solid play against a great running back in LeSean McCoy. After starting the season in the top 25, the Panthers started the season on a disappointing note with a 27-17 loss to Bowling Green, but this is still not a team for Iowa to take lightly. Despite that opening loss, Pittsburgh still figures to be contention for a Big East title this year and most certainly looks to be a bowl team. The last time Iowa traveled east to face a Big East conference opponent in non-conference play was in 2006 when the Hawkeyes won at Syracuse in overtime. That was also the last time Iowa started a season 4-0, which they will be attempting to repeat on Saturday.