Hawkeyes hit the road for smash-mouth meeting with Pitt

Andrew Logue
Northern Iowa running back Evan Williams (8) is tackled by Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa beat Northern Iowa 31-23.  Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – This may be exactly the sort of matchup Iowa's football team needs.

"I love it," senior linebacker Quinton Alston said of Saturday's 11 a.m. showdown with Pittsburgh. "It's all about mental toughness and physical toughness."

After a week of discontent stemming from a 20-17 loss to Iowa State, Alston and his fellow Hawkeyes are ready to cut loose.

And they'll get their chance against an opponent that takes pride in being blunt.

The Panthers (3-0) average 344.3 rushing yards per game. Iowa (2-1) is allowing 65.7 on the ground.

"I see a Wisconsin type of offense," Hawkeye defensive tackle Carl Davis said. "A lot of big linemen. They like to get guys off the ball, drive them five yards downfield, open up a gap for the running back. A lot of pin-and-pull stuff."

It's no coincidence. Paul Chryst was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2005-11 before becoming Pittsburgh's coach in 2012.

The ties with Badgers patriarch Barry Alvarez remain tight. Alvarez flew out last season to watch Pittsburgh play Florida State, as a guest of Chryst.

"Very, very similar," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "(Chryst) was impressive at Wisconsin. Maybe more impressive now."

This will be Pittsburgh's third meeting with Iowa in seven years – all under different head coaches.

Iowa lost to Dave Wannstedt's Panthers 21-20 in 2008 and rallied to beat Todd Graham's version 31-27 in 2011.

Chryst is continuing to instill his vision, making tailback James Conner the centerpiece.

Conner ranks second nationally with 544 rushing yards, averaging 6.7 per carry, with eight touchdowns.

Maybe a smash-mouth approach from Pittsburgh will wake Iowa out of its funk.

"I feel like we need to just relax, go out there and get downhill," Alston said. "Hit No. 24 (Conner) before he gets running. Have a race to the football."

The Panthers' sophomore quarterback, Chad Voytik, is 29-of-50 passing through three games while averaging 8.6 per rushing attempt.

"Force him out of the pocket," Alston said of defending the nimble Voytik. "Make him move his feet, and then you've got to get to the ball."

Sophomore receiver Tyler Boyd, who caught 85 passes last season for 1,174 yards, keeps defenders honest.

Still, you won't see as much motion or shifting as Northern Iowa or Iowa State.

"I definitely like the more physical games," Davis said. "You know what you're going to get. With the spread (offense), you've got to look out for different things. This is a whole different challenge."

The Panthers' defense isn't too shabby, holding its first three opponents to a total of 45 points. But the pace may be more to the Hawkeyes' liking.

This is an old-school, knuckles-in-the-turf affair.

For quarterback Jake Rudock, that means controlling the clock, giving Davis and Alston time to catch their breath on the sideline and limiting Conner's touches.

If receivers Derrick Willies and Damond Powell break free for big gains, it's a bonus.

This is more like arm wrestling than sleight of hand.

"We know they're going to try and come out there and run the ball," Alston said. "We're going to try and stop the run."


Saturday's Game

--Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0), 11 a.m.

--Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

--ESPNU (DirecTV 208, Dish Network 141, Mediacom digital 828). ESPNU is not available on Mediacom basic packages.

--Pittsburgh favored by 7