Iowa got off to a fast start against Illinois State but the Hawkeyes were slow out of the gate against Iowa State. I think a fast start is critical in tonight's game and I think they can put one together. They're playing in front of what I expect to b a sellout crowd and it's under the lights in Kinnick Stadium. The atmosphere and emotion should propel Iowa in the early going.
The injuries are concerning. LeShun Daniels and Drew Ott are questionable, at best. I think it is important for Daniels to be able to go because without him, that puts the load on Jordan Canzeri who has had durability concerns throughout his career. If Daniels cannot go, I think it will be important to see what they have in Derrick Mitchell. He's had an emotional week, and an unusual one, but I think he could have a role if Daniels is unavailable.
Not only is it important for Mitchell to emerge if Daniels is out, but Iowa needs to find another back for next year and giving Mitchell that experience and those reps would be advantageous in that regard. Iowa is best when they run the football. Even if Daniel's can't go, they have to figure out a way to get it done on the ground to set up the pass. Beathard's running ability could be the x-factor.
Pittsburgh loves to be aggressive on defense with Pat Narduzzi now at the controls, and it's critical to make them pay and slow down that pass rush. Jordan Canzeri becomes important in that attempt because he is so effective on screen passes. Also, there should be opportunities on the outside against press man coverage. This could be the game where Tevaun Smith breaks out.
Defensively, Iowa has a stiff challenge against Pittsburgh. They're much bigger than them. The defensive line will have to overcome the size disadvantage to still make an imprint in this game. I think they struggle early, but rebound with a strong second half just like last week. Their quickness is an asset and Kirk Ferentz and his staff have done a great job at rotating to keep them fresh, even late in the game.
The linebackers have been good this year, and a much improved unit. Qadree Ollison brings ore speed to the table than James Conner did, and I feel as though Iowa is more prepared for that kind of attack this year. Cole Fisher and Ben Niemann are quick and athletic and have the ability to defend the more elusive backs.
The secondary has another challenge this week in defending Tyler Boyd. They did well in defending Allen Lazard of Iowa State, but Boyd is a different animal. He will get his and produce, but it's important for the Hawkeyes to contain him and prevent his explosive plays. They've done well doing that so far this year and that will be up to the safeties. Despite limitiing the opposing offenses from ripping off huge chunks of yardage, the safeties have played less than stellar. That will have to change tonight.
In the end, I think both offenses put up numbers tonight. Iowa scores more in my estimation though, and win the ballgame 38-24.