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Hawkeyes to face fast-paced offense

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | SEPTEMBER 16, 2011 7:20 AM

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First, Iowa faced Tennessee Tech and the "Fastest 60 Minutes in Football." Then came Steele Jantz and the no-huddle Cyclone offense.

Now, the Hawkeyes will encounter "High Octane Football" from first-year coach Todd Graham and Pittsburgh.

With games still remaining this season against such teams as Northwestern and Nebraska, the fast-paced challenges won't end with Saturday's game against the Panthers at Kinnick Stadium.

But it's a good place for Iowa to start overcoming them.

Even while still adapting to Graham's new system, the Panthers are tied for ninth in offensive plays per game (78) among all Bowl Subdivision schools who've played two games, according to cfbstats.com. By comparison, Iowa is tied for 81st at nearly 66 plays per game — and that's including a triple-overtime contest.

Kirk Ferentz said there's "some carryover" in preparing for Pittsburgh's offense after playing two opponents with similar philosophies.

"The bad news is, I hope there's no carryover on Saturday," the 13th-year Iowa coach said, referring to the 44 points and 473 yards of offense the Hawkeyes surrendered in last week's 44-41 loss at Iowa State.

"We're going to have to do a better job defending. That's first and foremost right now."

With negative-six yards rushing, Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri may not be as much of a threat to hurt the Hawkeyes with his feet as Jantz or Tennessee Tech's Tre Lamb were.
Running back Ray Graham is.

The 5-9, 195-pound sophomore is the nation's leading rusher through two games, averaging 161 yards per contest. His six rushing touchdowns are tied for first.

And though Graham isn't a quarterback, restricting him to the middle of the field is still important for the Iowa defense. Iowa's line struggled to do so with Jantz, resulting in more pressure on the rest of the defense, Ferentz said.

If the last defender closest to the sideline isn't in the proper position, defensive tackle Mike Daniels said, "then the running back, quarterback, pitch man, whoever, can get free and just take off."

"We have to play better as a defense to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Some have specifically questioned Iowa's late-game conditioning as a reason for such breakdowns. Linebacker Christian Kirksey pointed to mental — not physical — stamina as the problem.

"I wouldn't say we're tired. It's just — we have to remain focused," said the sophomore, who tallied a game-high 13 tackles against Iowa State. "It gets pretty tough throughout the game, especially close to the end of the game. We have to keep our mindsets right."

Cornerback Greg Castillo said he and his teammates in the secondary were embarrassed by last week's poor performance, a sentiment also felt on the defensive line. Daniels said he "let his teammates down."

The silver lining is this week's chance for redemption.

"I think it's definitely a challenge, but definitely a challenge that we look forward to," Daniel said. "The whole team learned a lot last weekend. We're just grateful for the opportunity."


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