September 27, 2014 was a big day for Terry Bowden and his Zips. Just a week after a 48-17 home loss to Marshall, Akron went into Heinz Field and beat the Pittsburgh Panthers by a 21-10 final. That was Bowden's biggest win in his tenure at Akron at that point, and it still is almost a year later.
This time, the Akron Zips will host the Panthers in a prime time game at InfoCision Stadium-Summa Field.
The Pitt Panthers are coming off of a somewhat narrow week one victory over FCS foe Youngstown State. Head coach Pat Narduzzi's debut at Pitt did end in a win, but will have to move forward without one of its best offensive players. 2014 ACC Player of the Year and top Pitt running back James Conner will miss the season after suffering an MCL injury in the win.
Replacing Conner at the top of the depth chart will be 6-foot-2, 230 pound freshman Qadree Ollison. In his debut with the Panthers, Ollison carried 16 times for 207 yards and a touchdown. Ollison's success against Akron's run defense, which held Oklahoma to its lowest total yardage since 2012, will be crucial in Pitt's attempt at revenge.
If the run game stalls, quarterback Chad Voytik will have to be the one to step up. In the opener, Voytik went 9-14 for just 72 yards, as well as a touchdown and a pick. I wouldn't expect numbers like that again, though, as star wide receiver Tyler Boyd will return from his one game suspension.
Boyd was Pitt's top receiver in the matchup last year with six catches for 72 yards. His 1,261 receiving yards and 8 touchdown catches in 2014 helped Boyd make NFL.com's list of the top 20 college football players of 2015.
The 37 points that Pitt gave up to Youngstown State is alarming, but also deceiving. Narduzzi was a defensive coordinator at the FBS level from 2003-2014, so one would expect Pitt to be a great defensive team. It wasn't that close of a game until the Penguins broke off touchdown runs of 27 and 75 yards as well as a 77 yard pass to make the game so close in the end. The top performer of the defensive unit in week one was redshirt senior linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who made 10 total tackles, including two sacks.
Akron's new look offense struggled to move the ball against Oklahoma in week one, and Pitt had trouble avoiding the big play against a slightly above average FCS team. This week two battle could end up proving a lot for either team.
The Zip defensive front will be matched up with a great rushing attack despite the loss of Conner. This unit found great success in the 41-3 loss at Oklahoma by holding the Sooners to 100 yards on the ground with only 33 being gained by Heisman hopeful Samaje Perine. The Panthers are more of a running team, though, and could easily be the best running team that Akron faces all year.
In their Akron Zip debuts, transfers Jamal Marcus (DE), Rodney Coe (DT), and Darryl Monroe (LB) all played well, recording 13 total tackles against the Sooners.
The biggest factor in Akron's chances against Pitt rest in the offense. They weren't able to move the ball, as the new philosophy of running the ball effectively didn't work well against a big and fast defense like that of Oklahoma. Fortunately, that was also the best defense that Akron will face all year, so the only way to go from here it up, right?
The quarterback competition between incumbent Kyle Pohl and sophomore Tra'Von Chapman ended in Chapman being named the starter. However, both quarterbacks played at different points in the opener. I wouldn't expect anything different to happen on Saturday, either.
Akron Zips football: Both QBs likely to see action against Pitt Panthers: Don’t expect the Akron Zips quarte... http://t.co/sVKQK6LJFH— George Thomas (@GeorgeThomasABJ) September 8, 2015
This will be a huge game for Chapman, as the former 4-star dual threat quarterback was once thought to be the future leader of Pitt football before being dismissed by the program in 2013.
Senior running back Conor Hundley, who carried 8 times for 36 yards in the opener, led the Zips to victory at Pitt in 2014. Hundley's 19 carries for 148 yards are part of the reason that Bowden is making the change in offensive style. That said, it will be interesting to see how the run-heavy offense performs against the team that inspired the change in the first place.
Akron's passing game, which went 6-26 for 88 yards in the opener at Oklahoma, has a new face that made a nice impact in his first ever start at receiver. Jerome Lane jr., whose father played basketball at Pitt, made 3 catches for 57 yards against the Sooners. The play of the day for the Zips came on on a 42-yard strike from Pohl to Lane with Lane carrying multiple defenders down the sideline to end the first quarter. The switch from safety to receiver just a few weeks ago could be a move that helps Akron's offense get moving again.
As you probably know, Akron had the nation's lowest attendance in 2014. A game against an ACC foe like Pitt could keep that from happening again, as it has been reported that at least 20,000 tickets have been sold.
Akron has hosted two Power Five conference programs at InfoCision Stadium since it opened in 2009. The last was Syracuse in 2010, which was a 29-3 loss. The first came in the second game at the stadium in a 38-21 loss to Indiana.
Earlier this week, Anson Whaley of Cardiac Hill, SB Nation's Pitt blog, answered some of my questions on the Panthers.
Kick off on September 12 is set for 6:00p.m. EST, and the game will be streamed on ESPN3. The line for the game as of Tuesday, September 8 is Pitt -13.