The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Behind Enemy Lines: Iowa-Pittsburgh

Alyssa Hitchcock
FILE – Fans hold up cards to their faces during the card stunt before the Iowa/Northwestern game in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. The card stunt was in dedication to veterans. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats, 48-7. (The Daily Iowan/Alyssa Hitchcock, file)

The following is an edited version of an interview between DI Pregame Editor Danny Payne and Panther Digest Publisher Nate Barnes.

Payne: How’s life after James Conner been?

Barnes: It’s been all right so far, Qadree Ollison had a pretty nice game for them in the second half of the first game against Youngstown State and then he ran for 81 yards last week against Akron. He’s been capable back there, and Darrin Hall has also shown the ability to play, that he belongs on the football field at this level. He’s a true freshman — I don’t know if they knew what they were going to do with him before Conner got hurt.
And then Chris James — who was probably the No. 2 guy on the depth chart before Conner went down — got banged up in that Youngstown State game, which gave Ollison a chance. So at the running-back position they’ve been OK.
James was healthy last week against Akron but didn’t play because it seems like head coach Pat Narduzzi doesn’t like to play players who haven’t practiced all week. So among Ollison, Hall, and James, they’ve been OK.
Playing Iowa this week, you’ll get more of a sense of where they’re really at because Iowa’s a team that can stop the run, and they’re going to need to run against Iowa because the secondary is pretty good, and I don’t think Pitt’s necessarily going to be able to throw the ball all over the field. It should really be a true test to see where they’re at without James Conner.

Payne: So with those guys you just described, how do you think they’ll fare?
Barnes: I think some of it could depend on if Drew Ott plays. That obviously will play into it a little bit. For the running game, I don’t really know what to expect, because Iowa’s always solid at the line of scrimmage. So I expect this game to be pretty similar to the last two. You’re looking at teams that are playing physical, grind-it-out type football, I know that’s what Iowa’s trademark is and that’s what Pat Narduzzi wants to instill here in Pitt more so than the last few coaches they’ve had.
So I’m not sure because the secondary is good, and Pitt really only has one threat on the outside in Tyler Boyd; nobody else has really shown himself to be a threat in the passing game outside of Boyd. The quarterback battle — that’s another thing you have to watch so I definitely think it’ll be important to see how Pitt runs the ball.
I’m not too sure about how Pitt will fare against Iowa. I think it’ll be a close game like the last couple were, and Pitt led both of those games in the fourth quarter. I think it’s going to be a fairly even game.

Payne: What’s going on at quarterback between Chad Voytik and Nate Peterman?
Barnes: My perspective on the whole situation is that it really doesn’t matter who will start. What they’re going to keep doing for the foreseeable future, I think, unless someone really separates himself from the other with Peterman and Voytik, they’re going to put the starter out there, he’ll play two series, and they’ll bring the other guy in, see what he does, and then alternate between the two of them, make a decision, and roll with one.
Obviously, you have to report who is named the starter, but as the season goes on, it doesn’t matter who starts. I’m sure Iowa is preparing for both quarterbacks. Pitt’s preparing both quarterbacks this week. So all you can really do is sit back, watch, and see who is playing better, and that’s who is going to play the majority of the snaps.

Payne: Who do you think is the better option out of those two?
Barnes: It’s interesting because Voytik was going to be the guy. He was the leader of this offense, got better in the second half of last season. But as I watch Voytik play, it seems like he doesn’t want to throw the ball downfield unless it’s to Tyler Boyd. That’s understandable — if I were the quarterback, I would want to throw to Boyd as much as possible, because more often than not, he’s the best player on the field.
Not to say that they should throw less, but Voytik may not be as advanced as we once thought he was, just in terms of coming into the offense and looking downfield and progressing through his reads. Often, it just looks like he’s checking down to the flat. It’s been tough to really get a read on where he is.
Peterman has shown the ability to go downfield; he still keys in on Boyd, but if Boyd’s not there, Peterman has shown the ability to progress and look to the other side of the field and make another decision down the field.
I think Voytik, I don’t know, he needs to show a little bit more this weekend; otherwise, Peterman may be the better option.

Payne: Moving to the other side of the ball, with Narduzzi being the hot defensive coach this off-season, what’s the consensus through two games on his defense?
Barnes: Well, the first game, they gave up a lot, but the offense also gave the ball to Youngstown State in some pretty favorable scoring positions. Pitt played a pretty solid game — they were pretty solid overall in the first half. There were a couple miscues, they gave up two long touchdowns in the second half, and obviously those count, but they were much better against Akron. They held them around 110 yards of offense. I mean we’re talking about Akron, so I don’t know how much you can take from those games, but it’s better for them to win and play well than it is for them to not play well and lose.
I think Akron’s probably a better team than Youngstown State; at the very least, they finish in the top half of the MAC, if not close to the top, so they showed improvement, and the defense looked a lot better.
Also, the conditions were poor, it was raining, it was wet, and it was cold, so that wasn’t necessarily conducive to being able to throw the ball. They looked pretty good against Akron, so I think people are starting to see what Narduzzi wants to do as a defense. When they play against better teams like Iowa, they might get exposed on a few things they might not want to do right now. But overall, it seems like the defense is putting a good foot forward.

Payne: Have they been blitzing as much as Narduzzi did at Michigan State?
Barnes: I haven’t seen enough to say yes, but his thing is pressed coverage, blitzing, and pressure with the defensive line. I don’t know if I’ve necessiarly seen enough blitzing, maybe I just haven’t watched closely enough. I don’t know I’ve seen it to the extent that I’ve been like, “Wow, this is a team that’s blitzing a lot more than it used to.”
And also, they might not necessiarly have needed to. I think you might see a little more of it against Iowa. You’re usually seeing a linebacker — I know there have been a couple corner blitzes. They have been blitzing, but I don’t know if it’s enough. It’s still early, I’m still trying to figure out what to look for as I watch this defense play.

Payne: Granted, it’s been Youngstown State and Akron, but if LeShun Daniels Jr. can’t play, how does Pittsburgh do with smaller, quicker guys like Jordan Canzeri?
Barnes: Youngstown State’s running back had a long touchdown run on a draw or something like that. He got to the outside and was just gone. I feel like that has more to do with missed assignments or missed tackles, so I can’t say for sure whether they’re more equipped to handle a bruising back.
Mark Weisman ran all over Pitt last year, so the bigger back, they weren’t ready to handle that. I’m not sure if anybody was ready to handle that. Wasn’t it Weisman for Heisman or something like that?

Payne: Yeah, he was a fullback playing running back, so when he burst on the scene people were all about that.
If I was making these decisions, I’d probably dress both Ott and Daniels, I wouldn’t start them and then go from there. If you jump out to an early lead, there’s no reason to risk further injury. Then if you need them, they’re there.
Barnes: Yeah, we’re talking about Pitt and Iowa here. Neither of these teams are going to jump into the rankings because of this game. So if I’m Iowa, I want those guys for Big Ten play … It’d be good for either side to win this game; obviously, you don’t want to lose, but this isn’t a game where you’d throw your best player out there and risk him being hurt.

You saw that with Pitt; they lost their best player against the worst game they’re going to play.

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