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Pitt putting 2014 loss behind them in preparation for Akron game

Meghan+Sunners+%2F+Senior+Staff+Photographer
Meghan Sunners / Senior Staff Photographer

Meghan Sunners / Senior Staff Photographer

Meghan Sunners / Senior Staff Photographer

By Jeremy Tepper / Senior Staff Writer

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Two days after its opening victory against Youngstown State, the Pitt football team took a monumental blow, losing star running back James Conner for the entire season to a torn MCL. On Saturday, they’ll be taking on Akron, minus No. 24.

Despite the magnitude of Conner’s loss, center Artie Rowell stressed that he and his teammates can’t linger on the injury and must focus on the task at hand: beating the Zips.

“We have another game on Saturday. There’s no time to dwell on it,” Rowell said.

Their opponent isn’t just another early season breeze-by game, if only because of Pitt’s history with the Zips. Last year, Pitt lost 21-10 at Heinz Field against the Akron team that would finish the season with a middling 5-7.

“It’s not a good memory. We came out, and they just outplayed us,” said tight end Scott Orndoff.

As a member of Akron’s coaching staff last year, Pitt offensive line coach John Peterson is now scouting his former employer. Akron lost their first game 41-3 against No. 19 Oklahoma. The team struggled on both ends, accumulating 226 yards and giving up 539.

Even so, head coach Pat Narduzzi praised the talent of Akron’s defense, especially their defensive line and linebackers.

“They’ve got two explosive defensive ends. Their front seven are nasty,” Narduzzi said.

Those two aforementioned defensive ends are Se’von Pittman and Jamal Marcus, who both transferred in from Ohio State. Pittman and Marcus each had a tackle for loss against Oklahoma and are pivotal to Akron’s defense. Head coach Terry Bowden and his defensive coordinator Chuck Amato employ a 4-3 defense, similar to Pitt’s scheme, Narduzzi said.

“You could see in the Oklahoma game that they’ve got a lot of skill and talent,” Peterson said of Akron’s defensive line.

On offense, Narduzzi said Akron runs a “Baylor-type offense,” referring to their propensity to spread the field with their receivers.

Pitt doesn’t know who will lead Akron’s offense, as both Kyle Pohl and Tra’Von Chapman — who Pitt dismissed in 2013 after pleading guilty to assault charges — took cracks at playing quarterback against Oklahoma last week.

Pohl, a pro style-type quarterback, has been Akron’s starter the past two years. He struggled week one, completing 6 of 17 passes for 88 yards.

Chapman is a dual-threat quarterback who boasts good speed under center. Chapman did not complete a pass in eight attempts during week one, though he did run 14 times for 48 yards.

Having to prepare for two different quarterbacks adds another wrinkle to Pitt’s scouting and practices leading into the game. Still, defensive line coach Tom Sims said the defense’s practice arrangements are more about them executing their game plan than focusing too much on the opposition.

“Pretty much, we prepare how we prepare,” Sims said. “It’s more about us, as opposed to trying to adjust magically to this guy that’s in for that play and this guy that’s in for another play. It’s about us playing our defense the right way.”

On Pitt’s end, its offensive and defensive units will change slightly. Pitt lists Qadree Ollison as the starter running back in light of Conner’s injury, while wide receiver Tyler Boyd and defensive end Rori Blair will return to the starting lineup after serving one-game suspensions.

“It will be nice to see [Boyd] running around, Rori Blair as well, two guys that will help us a bunch,” Narduzzi said.

The game will start at 6 p.m. on Saturday at InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field as Akron’s first home game of the season.

“I’m sure that they’re excited about it, and I’m sure that they’re going to be prepared when it comes time to play, so we need to put our best foot forward,” Sims said.

While the disappointing loss will likely linger in the minds of the Pitt fanbase, Orndoff said it’s important for Pitt to not look ahead to their next contest against Iowa or back on their loss to Akron last season.

“To us, there’s no other game after Akron,” Orndoff said. “It’s all Akron right now, we’re not thinking ahead to Iowa or whoever. It’s just Akron, 2015.”

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Pitt putting 2014 loss behind them in preparation for Akron game