After two impressive victories to start the season, Paul Chryst’s Pitt Panthers will be back at it again when they head to Miami on Saturday to take on Conference USA’s FIU Golden Panthers.
The Panthers are coming off a 30-20 victory over Atlantic Coast Conference foe Boston College, while FIU evened its record at 1-1 following a 34-3 win over Wagner.
Pitt is 2-0 for the first time since 2011 and seventh time since 2000. Pitt last started a season 3-0 in 2009.
The Panthers and FIU have met just once before, a 2010 encounter at Heinz Field won by Pitt, 44-17.
Who has the advantage this time around?
Let’s take a look.
When: September 13
Where: FIU Stadium, Miami, Fla.
Time: Noon EST
Watch: Fox Sports 1
Spread: Pitt -26 (via Bovada)
Series Began: 2010
Series Overall: Pitt leads 1-0
At Pittsburgh: Pitt leads 1-0
At FIU: DNA
At Neutral Sites: DNA
Last Meeting: Oct. 2, 2010 (Pitt won, 44-17)
Current Series Win Streak: Pitt has won 1 (2010)
Longest Pitt Series Win Streak: 1 game (2010)
Longest FIU Series Win Streak: DNA
Largest Pitt Margin of Victory: 27 points (44-17, 2010)
Largest FIU Margin of Victory: DNA
Keys for Pitt (2-0, 1-0 ACC):
1. Hop on the Conner Train: What else is there to say about James Conner throughout two weeks? After rushing for 153 yards and four touchdowns against Delaware, Conner went back to work against Boston College, carrying the rock for 214 yards and a touchdown to help his Panthers defeat the Eagles, 30-20. It’s as simple as continuing to run the football at a high success rate as Pitt ranks fifth in the nation, averaging 356.0 yards per game on the ground. I wouldn’t expect the philosophy to change very much this week.
2. Early big plays from defense: Pitt was able to limit Boston College to 15 first downs last week. In two games, the defense has given up just 20 points and is limiting opposing offenses to 170 total ypg, which is good for first in the ACC and fourth nationally. In addition, Pitt’s five interceptions are tied for first in the ACC and second nationally. You want to see this defense continue to make big plays, especially against weaker competition.
FIU will be starting freshman Alex McGough at quarterback, so the opportunity for big plays from the defense could be there. FIU had a horrible offense in 2013, only cracking the 20-point mark twice in 12 contests and won only one game.
3. Keep getting Chad Voytik Comfortable: While Conner is the main weapon in the Pittsburgh offense, quarterback Chad Voytik has been a perfectly capable passer when needed. He completed 10-of-20 passes against BC for 111 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. In two games, Voytik has thrown for 195 yards and four scores with just the one pick.
He hasn’t been asked to do much so far this season, but there will come a time when he is needed. Games like this can continue to get him comfortable running the Panthers’ offense and making plays with both his arm and his legs can continue to get the youngster ready for bigger games.
Keys for FIU (1-1, 0-0 C-USA)
1. Stop the Run: Not an easy task to say the least, but if Ron Turner’s team doesn’t shut down Conner and the Pitt rushing attack they are going to get blown out. If Voytik beats them then fine, but the Golden Panthers have to make Pitt win by throwing the football.
2. Win the Turnover battle: FIU came up with six Wagner turnovers, tying a record set against Florida A&M in 2004. In two games, the Golden Panthers average only 8.5 ppg allowed and have surrendered only 225.5 total yards per contest. If they are to have any chance on Saturday, the Golden Panthers need a similar effort from their defense and a couple big plays on special teams won’t hurt either.
3. Control the clock: Turner said freshman McGough will start at quarterback Saturday, but expect to also see junior E.J. Hilliard. Either way the one way to slow down the Pitt offense is by not allowing them on the field. FIU has to find a way to run the football and keep their offense on the field as much as possible.
After rushing for only 43 yards in a Week 1 loss to Bethune-Cookman, the Golden Panthers rushed for 148 in a Week 2 win against Wagner. Freshman Alex Gardner’s 138 yards on just 15 carries broke the FIU single-game rushing record for freshman it won’t be easy but FIU has to find a way to go on long methodical drives to control the clock.
Prediction: This could be a trap game as Pitt may be looking forward to Iowa at Heinz Field next week, but I don’t think Paul Chryst’s team will fall victim. Pitt should dominate this game start to finish. Pitt 44, FIU 13
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports