Hawkeyes Gameday: 5 keys to victory vs. Pittsburgh
PUSHING THE PILE: Iowa has rushed for at least 210 yards both games this season. The Hawkeyes hit that threshold just four times in 2014. Iowa has also had a back rush for at least 100 yards in each of the first two games. The Hawkeyes had 100-yard rushers in just two regular-season games in 2014. So moving the ball on the ground has been a positive improvement, but Saturday will be a much bigger test. Pittsburgh is allowing just 88 yards rushing through the first two games, which ranks 21st nationally. Throw in the questionable status of LeShun Daniels (179 yards), and Iowa's reborn running game will challenged.
THE NARDUZZI EFFECT: Pat Narduzzi is in his first season as the head coach at Pittsburgh. This is the fourth time Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who grew up in Pittsburgh, has faced the Panthers. And Narduzzi is the fourth different coach, following Dave Wannstedt (2008), Todd Graham (2011) and Paul Chryst (2014). Narduzzi had been Michigan State's defensive coordinator. Narduzzi likes to blitz, something Iowa hasn't seen a lot of in the first two weeks of the season. Narduzzi coached the Spartans on their last visit to Kinnick Stadium, in 2013. Michigan State had two tackles for a loss but no sacks in a 26-14 victory. Iowa's running game was stuck in neutral, gaining 23 yards in 16 carries. Quarterback Jake Rudock was the leading rusher with 11 yards. Iowa threw 46 passes in that game. This Pittsburgh defense isn't Michigan State of 2013, but it is formidable.
FINISHING DRIVES: Getting into the end zone has been another positive sign of Iowa's uptick on offense. The Hawkeyes have scored on seven of eight trips inside the red zone in the first two games — six touchdowns and one field goal. The only missed opportunity came in the fourth quarter last week at Iowa State, when Jordan Canzeri fumbled at the Cyclones' 7-yard-line. The Hawkeyes scored on 78.6 percent of their red zone trips last season, scoring touchdowns on 36 out of 56 opportunities.
HANKIE ALERT: One area Iowa needs to shore up Saturday, and moving ahead, is the penalty department. The Hawkeyes have been whistled for 11 penalties so far this season: five for 51 yards against Illinois State, and six for 50 yards against Iowa State. The Cyclones picked up five first downs by penalty last week. Illinois State picked up two first downs by penalty. All five penalties against Illinois State came in the first half, as did four of the six penalties against Iowa State. The Hawkeyes have been whistled for pass interference three times, to go with two personal fouls, two offsides, two false starts, a defensive holding and a substitution infraction.
NIGHT GAMES: Iowa is playing its first night home game since losing to Penn State 38-14 on Oct. 20, 2012. That is hardly a positive memory. That was the first of six straight losses to end the season for the Hawkeyes. And in consecutive first-half plays, offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal were injured and lost for the season. Overall, the Hawkeyes are 6-4 in night games at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes' last victory at night came against Northwestern on Oct. 15, 2011, by a 41-31 count. Iowa also hosts Minnesota in a night game Nov. 14. That will be the first November Big Ten night game ever.