Sept. 15, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When playing the same football program four times in eight seasons, you expect familiarity, right?
Not when you’re padding up against the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Saturday evening marks the fourth time the University of Iowa and Pitt have met since 2008. While a constant in the series has been UI head coach Kirk Ferentz, the Panthers are on head coach No. 4.
In 2008 — the only time Pitt emerged victorious — the head coach for the Panthers was Dave Wannstedt. In 2011 it was Todd Graham. Last season it was Paul Chryst, who left to become head coach at Wisconsin. Pitt’s head coach in 2015 is Pat Narduzzi, former defensive coordinator at Michigan State.
“It’s the fourth time we’ve played Pittsburgh since 2008, and this will be the fourth time they have a different coaching staff,” Ferentz said Tuesday at a news conference in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. “It’s kind of an interesting side note, and really where it pertains to us, it creates a unique challenge in terms of our preparation.”
The Hawkeyes take on an undefeated team for a second week in a row. Pitt, which played in the Armed Forces Bowl a year ago, has defeated Youngstown State and Akron to start the season. The Panthers have rushed for an average of 226 yards a game, with the bulk coming from redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd is one of the nation’s best. Last week during a 24-7 win against the Zips, he caught 11 passes for 95 yards.
Iowa defeated Pitt, 24-20, last season on Heinz Field. Boyd was on the receiving end of 10 passes for 153 yards (long of 39) and quarterback Chad Voytik completed 19-of-29 passes for 250 yards. Voytik is battling for playing time with Nate Peterman (14-21-1, 209 yards).
Like Pitt, the Hawkeyes offense has thrived on the ground. Iowa averages 235 rushing yards and allows an average of 49; the Panthers also have a stingy run defense, allowing 88 yards a game.
“It’s the fourth time we’ve played Pittsburgh since 2008, and this will be the fourth time they have a different coaching staff. It’s kind of an interesting side note, and really where it pertains to us, it creates a unique challenge in terms of our preparation.”
UI football coach
“We’ll see what happens. They are going to come hard this week,” Ferentz said of the Pitt defense. “It really gets into not just the line, but the receivers coming in, and it’s our quarterback coming into the right place, getting us out of bad plays. It’s everybody being coordinated and right now we have a decent vibe with everybody. Everybody is operating on the same page.”
Iowa’s leading rusher, LeShun Daniels, Jr. (34 carries, 179 yards), was injured against Iowa State and his status — along with the status of defensive end Drew Ott — is unknown. Neither player practiced Tuesday.
“Both guys are rehabbing right now,” Ferentz said. “They are making good progress, but it would be premature to make any predictions how it’s going to go. We’ll see how the week plays out.”
The game against Pitt in 2014 was a big one for UI quarterback C.J. Beathard. Beathard orchestrated a second-half comeback by completing 7-of-8 passes for 98 yards. Since then, Beathard has gone 3-0 as a starter. This season he has completed 61.2 percent of his passes for an average of 213 yards a game with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“He is taking the responsibility of being a starting quarterback at a major school to heart,” Ferentz said. “Since January he’s been fantastic and we’re proud of him. We’ve had ups and downs, he’s done a great job, he has a great work ethic, and he’s done a great job leading our team.”
Ferentz was asked about scheduling Pitt, a place where he served as graduate assistant coach in 1980.
“It makes some sense,” Ferentz said of the series with the Atlantic Coast Conference foe. “It’s in an area, region we recruit.”
A Big Ten flavor exists with Chryst and now Narduzzi coaching the Panthers.
“There was a real Wisconsin flavor to the ball club a year ago and now you throw the film on and there’s a Michigan State flavor to it,” Ferentz said. “I wish I could say I was smart enough to anticipate that when we got involved in scheduling.”
The Hawkeyes and Panthers kick off Saturday at 7:12 p.m. (CT). It will be the 11th night game in Kinnick Stadium since 1992.
“I sure like them here better than on the road,” Ferentz said of night games. “But night games are special just in general. It’s a great place to be, so we are excited about that. I think our fans are excited about it, and hopefully we’ll play well Saturday.”