Iowa (2-1) at Pittsburgh (3-0) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Heinz Field (65,500) -- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Iowa 2-1, Pitt 1-0. Away Record: Iowa 0-0, Pitt 2-0. Neutral Record: Iowa 0-0, Pitt 0-0. Conference Record: Iowa 0-0, Pitt 1-0. Series Record: Pittsburgh leads, 3-2.
GAME NOTES: The Iowa Hawkeyes hit the road to tangle with the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday afternoon in a non-conference clash at Heinz Field.
The contest will be the road opener for Iowa. After jumping out to a 2-0 start with wins over Northern Iowa (31-23) and Ball State (17-13), the Hawkeyes suffered a 20-17 home loss to Iowa State in the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk game last weekend. It marks the first time since 1948 that each of the Hawkeyes' first three games were decided by one possession.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2009 and is looking to move to 4-0 for the first time since the 2000 season. The Panthers are back on their home turf following consecutive road wins, the most recent of which was a 42-25 decision at FIU last Saturday. Beginning this weekend, five of their next six games will be played at home.
Pitt holds a 3-2 lead in the all-time series, but Iowa was a 31-27 winner when these teams last met up in Iowa City during the 2011 season. The Hawkeyes erased a 24-3 second-half deficit in that game to complete the largest comeback in school history.
The Hawkeyes do boast a few proven playmakers on offense, although for one reason another the production on that side of the ball has left plenty to be desired to this point. Iowa's 71 first downs is tied for the second-most in the Big Ten, but the unit ranks 89th in total offense (377.0) and 99th in scoring (21.7). The red zone has been particularly problematic, where the Hawkeyes are 115th in the country in terms of efficiency.
On paper, the pieces are there to produce. Quarterback Jake Rudock has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in his career, running back Mark Weisman is closing in on 2,000 career yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground, and wideout Kevonte Martin-Manley ranks third in the Big Ten with 19 receptions. He needs 33 catches to break Iowa's all-time receptions record (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, 173).
The defensive side of the ball is where Iowa has really shined thus far. In fact, the team enters this tilt ranked first in the Big Ten and No. 7 nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 65.7 yards per game on the ground. The Hawkeyes are the only Big Ten team and one of eight squads nationally not to allow a rushing score this season. And while the Hawkeyes offense has struggled in the red zone, the defense has allowed only one TD in seven opponents' trips inside the 20.
Senior linebacker Quinton Alston led the way with 10 tackles and a forced fumble last week against Iowa State.
The Hawkeyes defense will face its toughest test to date going up against a Pittsburgh rushing attack that ranks fifth in the country with an average of 345 yards per game. The Panthers have scored 12 rushing TDs this season, the fourth-highest in the country.
Sophomore tailback James Connor headlines that effort, as he leads the country in rushing touchdowns (eight) and ranks second in total rushing yards (544). No Pitt running back has ever rushed for as many yards in the first three games of a season, and that includes former Heisman Trophy winner and pro football hall of famer Tony Dorsett. All told, Pitt is averaging 44.7 ppg to rank 15th in the nation.
The Panthers are just about as stingy against the run on defense, allowing a mere 77.3 ypg to rank ninth nationally. In fact, they are fourth in the nation in total defense (211.0), 10th in both passing yards allowed (133.7) and pass efficiency defense (88.08), and 16th in scoring defense (15.0). A lot of that success has to do with the Panthers' ability to get off the field on third downs, as they are No. 2 in the nation in third-down percentage defense (.205).
Last week, they bottled up FIU's ground game to the tune of 1.7 ypc, and allowed only three third-down conversions in 14 tries. Terrish Webb has two of the unit's five interceptions this season, and he is second on the team with 13 tackles.
The most intriguing matchup here is Pitt's potent rushing attack versus what so far has been a stingy Iowa run defense. However, the Panthers also boast a strong run defense, and that could create problems for an Iowa offense that relies on its ground game to create balance.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 27, Iowa 13Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 20, 12 p.m. (ET).