Pitt Football: Panthers want to make statement against Iowa
Pitt quarterback Bill Stull has the tough task of trying to score against an Iowa defense that has not allowed a touchdown this season.
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Pitt quarterback Bill Stull didn't mince words when he was asked earlier this week how important today's game between the Panthers (1-1) and Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0) at Heinz Field was to the team's fortunes.
Neither did tight end Nate Byham, nor just about every other player who made his way into the media room since the Panthers beat Buffalo, 27-16, Sept. 6.
The Panthers believe this is an opportunity for them to make a name for themselves as well as wipe away some of the negative vibes that have surrounded them since they were upset, 27-17, in their home opener by upstart Mid-American Conference team Bowling Green.
"This a statement game for us," Stull said. "I mean they haven't given up very many points, and if we can go out and prove to people that we can go out and beat them that is saying something about our football team."
The Hawkeyes have not yielded a touchdown through three games.
Byham added: "We look at this as a great opportunity to show people what we're all about. This is the first big-time opponent we've faced. They are a Big Ten opponent coming into our house and we need to play well, win the game, and that will help make a name for ourselves. It is time we win a game like this for our home crowd."
Matchup: Pitt (1-1) vs. Iowa (3-0), noon today Heinz Field. Pitt is favored by 1.
TV/Radio: ESPN2; WWSW-FM (94.5) and WBGG-AM (970).
Pitt: Is 5-13 in past 18 games vs. Division I-A opponents. ...Has not played Iowa since 1952. ... MLB Scott McKillop averages 10.5 tackles per game. ... K Conor Lee has made a school-record 80 extra points in a row. He is 5 for 5 this year. ...Will next play three consecutive road games (Syracuse, South Florida and Navy).
Iowa: Has wins vs. Maine (46-3), Florida International (42-0) and Iowa State (17-5). ...10th-year head coach Kirk Ferentz (pictured), an Upper St. Clair native, has a 64-49 record at Iowa. ... Will use two quarterbacks: Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen. ... Has given up only two sacks this season.
Hidden stat: Pitt has a 65-107-6 record against current Big Ten teams and has winning records against two: Wisconsin (3-0) and Iowa (2-1).Game
Although the idea of a "statement game" is used so often these days it has almost become a bad football cliche, there is a lot on the line for the Panthers today even though Iowa is a non-conference game and doesn't have any impact on the Panthers' quest for a Big East title and BCS berth.
For one thing, all of the goodwill and excitement the program had in the preseason went away by about midway through the third quarter of that opening game against the Falcons, as it became clearer the Panthers were going to lose.
Today's game is not only going to be televised nationally, but the athletic department also is expecting a big crowd -- perhaps pushing the 60,000 mark -- which means a lot of people will be watching to see whether the loss to Bowling Green was just a fluke or if the Panthers can live up to some of their preseason hype.
More important, the Panthers are a team in search of confidence and swagger. They are a team in search of identity and a team that has grown tired of hearing about all of their recent failures in games against opponents from BCS conferences. And some of the players said losing to Bowling Green might turn out to be a blessing in the long run because it humbled them and made them hungrier to prove their critics wrong.
"We need to win this one for a lot of reasons," Byham said. "I definitely feel us losing to Bowling Green probably helps us because we had that bitter taste of losing in our mouths already and we don't ever want to have that again."
The Panthers have struggled out to get out of the gate, but today's game is the start of a stretch that could get the Panthers back on track toward achieving some of their lofty goals.
If Pitt can beat Iowa today, then beat up on a hapless Syracuse squad next Saturday, it will head to South Florida Oct. 2 for a nationally televised game with momentum and an excellent opportunity to put themselves in the race for the Big East title.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, who is 5-13 in his past 18 games against I-A competition, downplayed the notion that this is a "statement game" or that a loss would be devastating to the Panthers..
"I'm looking at it as, it is exciting," Wannstedt said. "We have a chance to play an outstanding football team, like Iowa, with great tradition and they are coming into our stadium.
"We are going to find out a lot more about our football team. I think after a few games we are still not sure where we are at and how we measure up and we're going to find out real quick where we are as a football team if we don't come ready to play."
First Published September 20, 2008 12:08 am