Breaking it down: Hawks have to lock down one of nation's best receivers
Who: Pittsburgh vs. Iowa
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Iowa -5.5
Matchup to watch: Tyler Boyd vs. Greg Mabin
It might be unfair to say that the job of covering the preseason All-American falls on one guy. Mabin, the most physically gifted corner in Iowa’s defensive backfield, figures to draw the initial matchup against the Pitt superstar receiver. Boyd’s 10-catch, 153-yard day wasn’t enough for the Panthers last year against the Hawkeyes. Rest assured, the Hawkeyes would like to prevent a repeat of that. Mabin and Desmond King have been solid for the Hawkeyes so far, but they’ll need to be at a different level to bottle up Pitt’s top offensive weapon.
Thing I’m excited for: C.J. Beathard running the show
Beathard is on the short list of the Big Ten’s most entertaining players. Whether he’s creating plays with his legs or tossing game-winning touchdowns, Beathard has been the leader the Hawkeye offense needed. LeShun Daniels might still be nursing an ankle injury on Saturday. In years past, the thought of a Hawkeye starting running back missing time would’ve been a worst-case scenario for the offense. But Beathard is the clear catalyst of this team now. He’ll have to find the holes in Pat Narduzzi’s defense, which hasn’t always come easy to Big Ten quarterbacks. Look for Beathard to get Jordan Canzeri involved in the passing game to freeze linebackers that might try to spy on the Iowa signal-caller.
Number to remember: 18
That’s how many points per game the Hawkeyes scored in their last three games against Narduzzi at Michigan State. Now, Narduzzi obviously doesn’t have the talent he did with the “No Fly Zone” yet. And this is obviously a different looking Iowa team than we’ve seen in recent memory. Still, Narduzzi has shown in years past that he can draw up a game-plan against Kirk Ferentz’s staff. For what it’s worth, Narduzzi’s defense held the Hawkeyes to 23 rushing yards when they last faced off in 2013. I get it. New rosters, new year, new schemes. Still, Iowa’s staff is preparing against a coach that knows the Hawkeyes quite well. That’s always a factor.
Prediction: Iowa 28, Pitt 21
It seemed like last year’s Iowa’s team found a way to lose games. This year’s group is starting to look like the team that always finds a way to win games. The Hawkeyes could be without defensive leader Drew Ott and their starting tailback for this one. But Iowa’s defense showed in the second half last week that it can take over a game. Pitt still hasn’t even named a starting quarterback and without preseason All-American tailback James Conner, the Panthers won’t have enough offensive weapons outside of Boyd to pick up the road win.