The Pitt Panthers will look to get back on the winning track Saturday afternoon when veteran coach Terry Bowden and the Akron Zips visit Heinz Field.
After suffering their first loss of the season last week, the 3-1 Panthers will look to get back on the winning track in their final non-conference game of the season against the 1-2 Zips. A victory over Akron would give Pitt its first 4-1 start since 2009.
Who has the advantage?
Let’s take a look.
When: Saturday, September 27
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.
Time: 1:30 pm EST
Spread: Pitt (-20.5)
Series Began: 1900
Series Overall: Pitt leads 2-0
At Pittsburgh: Pitt leads 2-0
At Akron: 0-0
Last Meeting: Oct. 3, 1998 (Pitt won, 35-0)
Current Series Win Streak: Pitt has won 2 (1900; 1998)
Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: 2 games (1900; 1998)
Longest Akron Series Win Streak: DNA
Largest Pitt Margin of Victory: 35 points (35-0, 1998)
Largest Akron Margin of Victory: DNA
Keys for Pitt:
1. Ride the Hammer: It’s getting repetitive, but the Panthers biggest way to beat any team on their schedule is to ride the nation’s leading rusher. James Conner leads the nation with 699 rushing yards on 110 carries and is tied for the nation lead in rushing touchdowns with nine.
Conner’s 699 rushing yards are easily the best four game start to a season in Pitt history (Tony Dorsett, 564, 1973) and is just 35 yards away from having the best five-game start to a season in program history (Ray Graham, 734, 2011). Expect Conner to get the ball early and often and have another big afternoon.
2. Spread the ball around- Sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik has lost a game for the first time in his young career and although he is playing fairly well, it would be nice to see him get some other receivers involved before the meat of the ACC schedule begins.
They need to get the ball in Tyler Boyd’s hands as much as possible, but while Boyd has 21 catches through four games, the next highest Pitt player has only nine receptions (Manasseh Garner). Ronald Jones is next on the list, but has only six catches on the year.
The Panthers also have a pair of talented tight ends in J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff, yet they have combined for only five receptions, with Holtz having four of those. Teams are going to start spreading all of their coverage over to Boyd, especially in tight situations, until Voytik shows he is willing to spread the ball around more often.
3. Don’t Get Beat Deep- The bottom line is that the Pitt corners must play better and that means starting to eliminate the big play, something that helped cost them a win against Iowa.
They allowed a 48-yard touchdown pass to Boston College and also gave up big plays against FIU, most notably a 57-yard touchdown pass.
Things got worse against Iowa as Pitt allowed big pass plays of 44 and 62 yards in the defeat and had a couple of bad penalties thrown in there as well. It could have been worse as early in the game the Pitt secondary was torched by an Iowa receiver, but caught a break when the ball bounced off his hands and was picked off by Lafayette Pitts. Needless to say this problem needs to be eliminated starting this Saturday.
Keys for Akron:
1. Make Chad Voytik beat you: The Zips must shut down Conner and that means taking some chances and putting more men in the box. They need to make the Panthers show that they can win the game through the air. If that happens then so be it, but they won’t stand a chance if Conner runs wild on them.
2. Stretch the field: Akron is averaging 286.3 yards per game in the air (34th in nation) and can have success throwing the ball on this Pitt defense. They need to try and stretch the field early and often and take advantage of some lackluster cornerback play from the Panthers. Bowden’s team can’t run the ball, averaging just 91.3 yards per game (119th). Quarterback Kyle Pohl, who has ran for 69 yards on the season, is their leading rusher, so I would expect Pohl to try and test the Pitt defense deep as much as possible.
They could get a boost from its running game if Jawon Chisholm is ready to go this week, but I would still expect Akron to try and sling it as much as possible.
3. Win the special team’s battle: For Akron to pull off an upset, they have to not only win the field position battle, but also create some splash plays in the special team’s games. A blocked kick, return touchdown or any other big plays in the kicking game could go a long way into swinging momentum their way.
Prediction: Pitt is 30-3 all-time against teams currently in the MAC, including a 26-1 record at home. That will continue as the Panthers will look to make a statement before entering ACC play for the rest of the season. Pitt 34 Akron 13
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports