Pitt football hopes to continue extracting revenge in Iowa rematch


Iowa starter C.J. Beathard led the Hawkeyes in relief to a 24-20 win against Pitt last year at Heinz Field. | Heather Tennant / Staff Photographer

Call Pat Narduzzi “the exorcist.”

In his first pair of games, Pitt’s new head football coach has led the Panthers to victories against two ghosts of losses past— Youngstown State and Akron.

On Saturday at 8 p.m. , Pitt (2-0) will attempt to cleanse another demon from its past against Iowa (2-0).

Like Pitt’s first two opponents, Iowa isn’t a mainstay on the Panthers’ schedule. Still, the Hawkeyes beat Pitt twice in 2011 and 2014, in Pitt’s last two meetings with the team. Before that, a 2008 contest ended in a 21-20 Panthers victory.

“I’m anxious to go out there and get the revenge, just like we did last week against Akron,” Junior wide receiver Tyler Boyd said.

Though Narduzzi wasn’t there for those losses, he’s familiar with Iowa through his time as defensive coordinator at Michigan State, playing the Hawkeyes nearly every year as members of the Big Ten.

Through these matchups, Narduzzi saw how Iowa’s toughness and physicality stand out.

“They’ll be a tough football team that’s going to smack you in the mouth, so we got to be ready to smack back,” Narduzzi said.

Part of Iowa’s strength defensively comes in its ability to pressure the quarterback, registering nine sacks this season so far. Defensive linemen Nate Meier and Drew Ott and linebacker Ben Niemann have accumulated two sacks each. The Hawkeyes defense allowed a total of 31 points in the first two games.

“They don’t give up the big play,” games,” said Kevin Sherman, Pitt’s wide receivers coach. “You watch them, and they’re a ‘bend but don’t break’ kind of defense in my opinion.”

On the back end, Iowa possesses an experienced secondary, with junior corners Greg Mabin and Desmond King and senior free safety Jordan Lomax.

“They’ll be a tough football team that’s going to smack you in the mouth, so we got to be ready to smack back”

Offensively, Iowa has scored 31 points in each of its games. The ground attack has been strong, producing 470 yards in total, with 179 coming from LeShun Daniels and 152 from Jordan Canzeri. Junior C.J. Beathard, Iowa’s starting quarterback, has also gotten into the mix, rushing for 103 yards.

Beathard, on top of his strength as a runner, is also an apt passer, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 426 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. For his 215-yard, three-touchdown performance against Iowa State last week, the Big Ten named Beathard Co-Offensive Player of the Week.

In his years of coaching, Narduzzi said he’s come across many talented quarterbacks, but Beathard is “as good as you’re going to see out there.” That praise is partly due to Beathard’s ability to avoid mistakes.

“The most impressive thing about him is he’s not giving up sacks, he’s not giving up interceptions. He’s protecting the football, and he can make plays with his feet,” Narduzzi said.

Though he’s seen the field in his past two seasons, this is Beathard’s first year as a starter. Similarly, Pitt will likely employ Quarterback Nate Peterman to start Saturday’s game, who is receiving his first taste of significant playing time after transferring from Tennessee. Though Chad Voytik started Pitt’s two games, Peterman relieved Voytik shortly into both games, not relinquishing the spot against Akron.

Regardless of who starts, Narduzzi is confident in both quarterbacks.

“They both played well at times, and they both have made mistakes at times,” Narduzzi said. “I feel comfortable with either one of them starting for us.”

Narduzzi added that it’s a “feel thing” on who he decides to play at certain spots during games. Despite the change, Narduzzi said he has fairly concrete plans to relieve the starter around the third series.

No matter the quarterback, the offense will try to match the defense’s performance. Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin’s reinvigorated unit is allowing 259 yards per game, good for 20th in the country. The unit has been proficient in providing pressure, registering nine sacks on the season, which is fourth in the nation. Pitt has spread those sacks over eight players, with linebacker Nicholas Grigsby leading the team with two.

Though he’s not a large part of the pressure in the backfield, Pitt will likely be without free safety Reggie Mitchell due to an undisclosed injury for the second game in a row. Terrish Webb again will get the start ahead of Mitchell.

In Iowa, Webb and the Panthers will be face their first Power Five opponent and atmosphere. Narduzzi anticipates a raucous crowd in Iowa’s second home game this year at Kinnick Stadium.

“There will probably be as good an atmosphere as you’re going to see on a college gameday,” Narduzzi said.

Faced with a loud, hostile crowd and a formidable opponent, Narduzzi expects to learn a lot about his team from this game.

“This is a big time opponent,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to find out what we got.”

Leave a comment.