Playing Pitt will be no field trip for 3-0 Iowa

Sept. 16, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz will return to his home state of Pennsylvania and the school where he began his football coaching career as a graduate assistant when the undefeated Hawkeyes (3-0) play Pittsburgh on Sept. 20 at Heinz Field. Kickoff is 11 a.m. (Iowa time) and the game will be televised by ESPN2.

Ferentz compared Iowa’s first road trip of the season to a mini-bowl game for him personally, but his focus is squarely on the Panthers first and family and old friends second.

“I think we’ve got the ticket situation under control,” Ferentz said. “It’s like a bowl game, only shorter. Bowl games are great things for the fans and great things for the families, but they’re not great for coaches or players because you’re practicing and trying to get ready for a ball game, then you have to play a game. I might be able to say hello to a couple people Friday evening (Sept. 19) when we’re done with our meetings, but we’re going to play a game.”

This will be the third consecutive home game for the Panthers (1-1). They were stunned by Bowling Green 27-17 in the opener, but rebounded to defeat Buffalo 27-16 on Sept. 6. Pittsburgh had a bye last Saturday. It will be the first meeting between the teams in 56 years, when the Panthers defeated Iowa 26-14.

Ferentz attended high school at Upper St. Clair in Pittsburgh and was a graduate assistant on Jackie Sherrill’s 1980 Pitt coaching staff.

“It was a great experience,” Ferentz said of graduate assistantship at Pitt. “It got me started on the path of college coaching. It gave me exposure. It’s the first time I had ever been around big-time college football, so that was an experience.”

The Panthers finished 11-1 that season.

“That Pitt team was one of the best in college football history,” Ferentz said.

The 2008 Panthers are averaging 372.5 yards per game (252.5 passing, 120.0 rushing). Quarterback Bill Stull has completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 505 yards and a touchdown. Seven Pitt receivers have six or more receptions, led by Oderick Turner with 10 for 111 yards. In two games running back LeSean McCoy has carried the ball 43 times for 164 yards and four touchdowns. Linebacker Scott McKillop has 21 tackles and three quarterback hurries.

“Pitt’s a team we have great respect for,” Ferentz said. “We have another challenge this week, this time traveling on the road. We have a tough opponent to get ready for and we expect it to be quite a challenge. It will be another test for us. We need to get our focus where it needs to be and make sure we have a good week of preparation because it’s going to be a tough contest for us.”

One of the biggest adjustments for the Hawkeyes will be the fact they will not be playing inside Kinnick Stadium for the first time since a 28-17 victory at Northwestern on Nov. 3, 2007.

“They need to realize that the game is a game no matter where we’re at, what the terrain may be or what the stadium looks like,” Ferentz said. “You have to get ready to play the game and focus on that, not geez, look at all the buildings or oh boy, there are three rivers right outside the stadium. It’s not a field trip. We’re going over there to play a game, just like we have the last three Saturdays.”

Hawkeye quarterbacks Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi are both listed as possible starters and the final decision will be made based on their performance in practice this week. If kickoff were held today (Tuesday), Ferentz said, the nod would go to Christensen.

“If we were playing today I think Jake would be our starter,” Ferentz said. “I’m happy with both of them and we’ll see how this week goes in practice. I’m not trying to be coy. We’re pretty-much the same team running the same plays offensively. We’ll see how the week materializes and see how things pan out.”

Stanzi has thrown for more yards (347 to 248) and more touchdowns (three to two), but Christensen has the better completion percentage (65.6 to 57.9) and only one interception (compared to two by Stanzi). Stanzi has rushed for 48 yards; Christensen for four.

“Both guys are doing a good job,” Ferentz said. “It’s a good situation. I’m at ease right now because they’re both doing well.”

There is also no rivalry between the teammates.

“They like each other, they enjoy each other and they respect each other,” Ferentz said.

Iowa is off to a 3-0 start following a hard-hitting 17-5 victory over intrastate rival Iowa State on Sept. 13. Ferentz is satisfied with the team’s progression.

“I’m pleased with our attitude and I’m pleased with our competitiveness,” he said. “We had to respond numerous times (against Iowa State) and the team kept responding in a positive way and that was good to see.”

Hawkeye captains for Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh are Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Rob Bruggeman and Andy Brodell. Ferentz said linebacker Jeff Tarpinian is doubtful for the game, but every other player on the roster should be ready to play.