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4-1-Zoo: Previewing The Enemy With The Enemy, Week 3

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(File photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Pitt heads to Kinnick Stadium Saturday to play Iowa at noon in a big test for both teams.

Iowa lost last weekend to rival Iowa State in triple overtime, and you’d think Pitt was 0-2 around town as the Panthers have had rather underwhelming wins in Week 1 and Week 2. To preview the game, Patrick Vint of Hawkeyes blog Black Heart Gold Pants joined me to give us the Iowa’s perspective.

I asked Patrick five questions, and here are his answers…

1) What is the mood for Hawkeyes fans this week after a pretty emotional loss to Iowa State?

The mood is as toxic as it’s been in years. Fingers are being pointed everywhere, and fans are bracing for the worst. Only once in the last 30 years has Iowa lost to Iowa State and finished the season with more than seven wins, so last week’s loss has made everyone adjust their expectations downward. That’s a hard thing for some fans to do, so there’s been some kicking and screaming.

2) What do you blame for the loss on Saturday?

I don’t know if there is one person responsible for the Iowa State loss. The defensive line was completely unable to contain ISU quarterback Steele Jantz, who scrambled around the backfield until coverage broke down. And that coverage broke down frequently and quickly. The offense didn’t have as many problems, but the offensive line is still working on how to handle their responsibilities and let Iowa State get pressure on James Vandenberg far too often.

If I had to blame someone, though, it would be Kirk Ferentz. Iowa had the ball on its own 20 in a tie game with 1:17 to play and two timeouts, and Ferentz decided to not push for a go-ahead score. He also decided to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 in overtime, despite the fact that the defense hadn’t stopped owa State from driving into scoring position since early in the second quarter.

3) Talk about quarterback James Vandenberg. What are your impressions of him after two games? Four touchdowns to zero interceptions and a completion percentage of 60 looks like a pretty good start.

Vandenberg could be a good one. He doesn’t have a huge arm, but he can throw every pass in the playbook, and he’s extremely accurate. More importantly, he does a nice job of putting the ball where only his receiver can get it. We just spent three years with Ricky Stanzi under center, where we never really knew where passes were going. Vandenberg is a different kind of quarterback, and he’s off to a good start.

4) What is the biggest concern and biggest encouragement through two games?

It’s hard to find encouraging signs from the last two weeks. I have been optimistic about the passing game. Vandenberg has been solid, senior receiver Marvin McNutt is back in form (though he has been, and will be, continually double teamed), junior Keenan Davis has clearly made a big leap from last season, and Iowa’s cadre of tight ends — the Hawkeyes are as deep at that position as they’ve ever been — provide plenty of targets over the middle of the field.

The concerns are everywhere, but none so glaringly obvious as on the defensive line. Iowa replaces three graduating seniors this year, and the replacements haven’t performed particularly well so far. Defensive ends Broderick Binns and Lebron Daniel have not been effective in rushing the passer and, more importantly, have allowed opposing backs to break contain over and over again. The tackles, Mike Daniels and Dominic Alvis, have been somewhat more effective but are undersized and have allowed the opposition’s inside running game to work far better than it should.

There are problems in the secondary, as well, but in Iowa’s defensive scheme it begins and ends on the line. Right now, it’s beginning and ending in losses.

5) What’s your prediction for Saturday?

I have no reason to believe Iowa will win this game. Pitt has the nation’s leading rusher, a spread offense (always an Iowa weakness), and a bit of momentum. Iowa’s only had five days to fix the myriad problems from last weekend. There are holes to exploit, and I trust Todd Graham to do just that. Everything in my experience tells me Iowa should be an underdog here.

The game’s at Kinnick, though, and Pitt’s performance against Maine was lackluster, so I’ll take Iowa to win 23-21. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have graveyards to whistle past.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog
Twitter.com/Chris_Gates
Chris.Gates@cbsradio.com