2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 3 - Pitt at Iowa
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Sept. 17 at Iowa 31 … Pitt 27
CFN Analysis: Is this what finally wakes up the Hawkeyes? It took the greatest comeback in team history to avoid a disastrous start to the season, and now James Vandenberg becomes an Iowa legend. All he did was wing it around the yard for 399 yards while showing off the type of gunslinger mentality in a game quarterbacks dream about. Any passer worth his salt wants to be able to bomb away, but it took a lousy first three quarters for Vandenberg and the Hawkeyes to get it going. There were too many penalties, too many misfires, and too many defensive breakdowns in the first 45 minutes, but Vandenberg was jaw-dropping while Keenan Davis and Marvin McNutt destroyed the Pitt secondary. ULM isn't a total cupcake, and it'll be a nice tune-up for the Big Ten opener against Penn State.
Pitt has to put this one in the rear-view mirror in a big hurry. After struggling and sputtering against Buffalo and Maine, the offense worked in the first three quarters even though Ray Graham was being bottled up. The nation's leading rusher came up with 97 yards, and Tino Sunseri threw well, completing 23-of-33 passes for 255 yards with two touchdowns, but he threw two picks and Pitt ended up losing the ball three times. The pass rush was non-existent in the final quarter and the secondary didn't have any answers, but just as bad was the offense that didn't go on any marches to help stop the momentum. With Notre Dame up next, the Panthers have to show more mental toughness than they displayed in the final ten minutes in Iowa City.
(AP) IOWA CITY, Iowa -- With all hope apparently lost, Iowa turned to James Vandenberg and asked the junior to start chucking it.
Vandenberg responded by engineering the biggest comeback in Hawkeyes' history.
Vandenberg threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and Iowa rallied from a 17-point deficit with just over 12 minutes left to stun Pittsburgh 31-27 on Saturday.
Vandenberg threw for 399 yards -- including 162 in the fourth quarter -- and he completed the Hawkeyes' rally with a 22-yard TD pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley with 2:51 left.
Iowa (2-1) trailed 27-10 early in the fourth quarter. But Vandenberg threw TD strikes of 14 yards to Keenan Davis and 25 yards to Martin-Manley to bring the Hawkeyes within three, then found a leaping Martin-Manley for the go-ahead score.
Iowa's Micah Hyde picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri with 1:41 left to cap a wild win for the Hawkeyes (2-1), who narrowly avoided their worst start in 11 years.
Sunseri had 255 yards passing for the Panthers (2-1), who looked to have locked up a key road win more than once before they were torched by a resurgent Vandenberg.
The Panthers led by as much as 24-3 on Sunseri's 4-yard TD pass to Drew Carswell with 3:11 left in the third quarter. Vandenberg moved the Hawkeyes 60 yards in under two minutes and scored on a 1-yard plunge to make it 24-10 -- but Pitt answered with a long drive capped by Kevin Harper's 24-yard field goal with 12:09 to go, putting Iowa three scores behind again.
Given how stagnant Iowa's offense had looked to that point, the Hawkeyes didn't seem to have enough left to make it close, let alone escape with a much-needed win.
But Vandenberg cut Pitt's lead to 27-17 with 9:55 left, finding Davis for a 14-yard score. The Panthers moved to Iowa's 36-yard line but were stopped on fourth down, leaving the door open for Vandenberg to lead the Hawkeyes right back down the field.
Iowa caught a break when Pittsburgh's Buddy Jackson was called for pass interference on a key third down. Two plays later, Vandenberg hit Martin-Manley from 25 yards out to make it 27-24 with 6:19 left.
The Hawkeyes forced another quick punt, and Vandenberg drove the Hawkeyes 64 yards in just 1:31 before capping the comeback with a 22-yard TD toss to Martin-Manley.
Davis had 10 catches for 129 yards and Marvin McNutt added 112 yards receiving for Iowa, whose 21-point rally topped its 18-point comeback against Oregon in 1949.
For most of the afternoon, it looked as Pitt had little to worry about.
The Panthers opened the second half up 10-3, and used some trickery to extend the lead.
Ray Graham took a handoff and gave it to receiver Ronald Jones on a reverse. Jones did the rest, floating it out to an open Cameron Saddler for a 30-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 17-3 lead.
Pitt made it 24-3 just three minutes later, and some Iowa fans headed for the exits certain Iowa would be 1-2 for the first time since 2000.
The ones who stayed rushed the field at the final whistle, as the Hawkeyes bounced back from a 44-41 triple-overtime loss at Iowa State in a manner few thought possible.
Devin Street had seven catches for 138 yards and Ray Graham rushed for 97 yards for the Panthers.
Pittsburgh (2-0) at Iowa (1-1) Sept. 17, 12:00, ESPN
Here's The Deal … As the level of competition starts to heighten, Pitt and Iowa meet in Iowa City staring at a possible crossroads moment in the season. A victory puts some wind in the winner's sails. A defeat will cast doubts in the mind of the loser. The Hawkeyes are in a particularly tenuous position as they attempt to bounce back from an emotional 44-41 loss to rival Iowa State. It was the most points yielded by an Iowa defense in seven years, raising concerns that this rebuilding season could be more painful than originally anticipated.
While the Panthers have yet to taste defeat, opening with Buffalo and Maine certainly aided the fast start. Pittsburgh didn't execute well in either game, holding on to beat the Black Bears, 35-29, a week ago. Nothing will light the fuse for first-year head coach Todd Graham faster than a road win over a name brand Big Ten opponent.
Why Pittsburgh Might Win: The evolution of the Panthers' new offense doesn't figure to suffer any setbacks at Kinnick Stadium. The Iowa D is reeling after getting lit up by Iowa State and QB Steele Jantz for 473 yards and six touchdowns. The line has been getting abused, and tackling has been inconsistent. Pitt will exploit the unit with its quick-hitting passing attack and downhill running game. Ray Graham leads the country in rushing, and has scored three touchdowns in each of the first two games. The key for the Panthers will be QB Tino Sunseri who has to give the Hawkeyes a reason not to stack the box to slow down Graham.
Why Iowa Might Win: The silver lining in Saturday's loss in Ames is that the offense rose to the occasion when it was needed. The Hawkeyes harbor their own downhill runner, Marcus Coker, who battered the Cyclones for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries. QB James Venderberg has efficiently thrown four touchdown passes without a pick, leveraging the size advantage of physical receivers Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis. So far, LT Riley Reiff and the rest of the offensive line have performed well, permitting just one sack. The trenches will be the site of an interesting battle between that Iowa front wall and a Panthers D-line that'll pressure the pocket with DE Brandon Lindsey and interior linemen Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein.
What To Watch Out For: Sunseri was the key to 2011 for the Panthers before the season began. He still is. For Graham's system to operate at full efficiency, he needs a quarterback who can get the ball out quickly, and ideally make things happen with his feet. It's only been two games, but the junior hasn't quite gotten up to speed, which has made freshman Trey Anderson a popular figure on the bench. Graham is sticking with Sunseri, but if his veteran fails to exploit an iffy Iowa pass defense, don't be shocked if Anderson gets a few more reps to impress the staff.
What Will Happen: After registering 41 points in a loss, Iowa will return to a more traditional, low-scoring affair. Both defenses will flex their muscles, and the running backs will take center stage. Coker and Graham will each rush for 100 yards and a score in one of the weekend's better showdowns of runners. In a game between equals, the Hawkeyes will enjoy an edge in intangibles, namely home-field advantage and last Saturday's teachable moment in a rivalry game.
CFN Prediction: Iowa 34 … Pittsburgh 20
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