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Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes Preview and Prediction

C.J. Beathard

C.J. Beathard

The Iowa Hawkeyes and Pittsburgh Panthers renew their Big Ten vs. ACC series in Iowa City this Saturday in a game that will match up two very similar teams.

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The 2014 matchup was a barnburner, with the Hawkeyes outscoring the Panthers 17-3 after half to erase a 17-10 halftime deficit en route to their second consecutive come-from-behind victory over Pitt.

The 2015 season will see Iowa face off against a new Panthers coaching staff for the 4th time in as many meetings, as Pat Narduzzi moved from Michigan State to Pitt to replace Paul Chryst, now of Wisconsin.

Saturday’s game will be the seventh meeting between Iowa and Pittsburgh dating back to 1931. The series is tied 3-3 with Iowa having won the last two meetings.

Pittsburgh at Iowa

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Big Ten Network & BTN2GO
Spread: Iowa -5.5

Three Things to Watch

1. How will injuries on the offensive side of the ball impact both teams

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The college football landscape has already been dramatically altered for 2015 as team after team has found itself without key personnel. Neither Iowa nor Pitt are an exception. The Panthers enter this weekend's contest without RB James Conner, an Athlon Sports preseason second team All-American and Maxwell Award watch list selection. The Hawkeyes may be without their team's defensive spark plug in DE Drew Ott and one of the most surprising early-season weapons on the offensive side of the ball in RB LeShun Daniels.

2. Is Iowa's receiving corps for real

The Hawkeyes knew they had questions at QB with the promotion of C.J. Beathard to the starting job last spring. But as Beathard has found his rhythm in guiding the offense, the biggest surprises have come from junior wide receivers Matt VandeBerg and Riley McCarron. Through two games, Beathard has discovered VandeBerg as a primary target, as he leads the team with 15 catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Against Iowa State, VandeBerg hauled in nine passes for 114 yards, including a long of 48. Toss in the receiving wild cards of RB Jordan Canzeri, who picked up 90 yards receiving against Illinois State, and senior TE Henry Kreiger Coble and Iowa is capable of beating you on both the ground and in the air.

3. Which defense is over ranked

Entering Week 3 both the Hawkeyes and Panthers have demonstrated tremendous defensive efforts. Iowa's vaunted “swarm” has found its stride, and is currently ranked 29th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 49.0 yards rushing per game. Across the line, Pitt checks in as the 24th-ranked defense in the nation, allowing just 88 yards rushing per game. With the Panthers' backfield is averaging 226.0 rushing yards per game, the Hawkeyes have been equally impressive on the ground (235.0 ypg). Something's clearly going to have to give in this contest.

Final Analysis

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New Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi inherited a tremendously talented roster from his predecessor. But the loss of his most dangerous offensive weapon in Conner has left the Panthers' offense struggling. Iowa's defense on the other hand has been masterful in limiting opponents' time of possession and total offensive production. Even without Daniels in the backfield, the Hawkeye offense won't miss a beat as Canzeri once again carries the load. Watch for Iowa to build on both its offensive and defensive efforts from the second half of the Iowa State game and overpower Pitt as the Hawkeyes avoid the need to pull off their third consecutive come-from-behind victory over the Panthers.

Prediction: Iowa 28, Pitt 10

— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, a member of the Athlon Contributor Network and a native Iowan currently based in Southern California. A University of Iowa graduate, Boleyn is a former contributing writer for The Daily Iowan and a die-hard Hawkeye. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.