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At First Glance: Pitt vs. Akron

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it wasn't pretty but it was a win.

That's the overwhelming narrative after the first week of play for Pitt. There was a backup quarterback on the field in the first quarter, a James Conner injury, and some big scoring plays, but the discussion still centered around the Panthers pulling out a close win against Youngstown State.

This week, the Panthers move on to another team that has given them trouble in recent years in Akron.

Last year, the Zips pulled out a 21-10 win at Heinz Field and now the Panthers must head on the road to face them on Saturday. The game is a later one, getting a 6:00 p.m. start and as it's Akron's home opener, you should expect to see a good turnout.

A big question is about the status of running back James Conner. Conner came out of the game early against Youngstown State and didn't return. Head coach Pat Narduzzi said afterwards that he was fine but it wouldn't be completely unreasonable to see the team either sit him or, at the very least, utilize backups Chris James and Qadree Ollison a good bit. The idea seems to be to get Conner some rest and make sure he's ready when he's needed more when the Panthers get into the meat of their schedule. Ollison's emergence, too, might give Pitt a little more leeway when it comes to resting Conner. We'll see.

Then there's the matter of Pitt's quarterback Chad Voytik. Voytik played a miserable game against Youngstown State but short of a couple of strange series' in the first quarter, he remained in for the entire game. Voytik should be better as he gets his favorite target, Tyler Boyd, back. But there are still a lot of questions after he played so poorly against an FCS team.

Defensively, I'll be waiting to see if the team can avoid giving up the big plays as they did in the fourth quarter. The unit played relatively well for much of the game, but ran into trouble late, giving up a pair of 70+-yard plays to the Penguins on Saturday in the fourth quarter. Part of it may have been running out of gas a little as there were some fast scoring plays and they were playing at the end of a game in 90 degree heat. Still, the Panthers have to find a way to limit the big play against Akron this weekend. There's no guarantee they'll be able to again put up more than 40 points on offense.

As underwhelming as Pitt looked in their opener, Akron looked worse. They had a stiff challenge facing Oklahoma on the road, but were completely overmatched in an ugly 41-3 loss. Five of their first six drives resulted in three-and-out series', and Akron punted a total of 12 times in the game. That said, it's difficult to get a good handle on where they stand just because the opponent was such a difficult one.

The Zips ran wild on Pitt last year, led by Conor Hundley. He had 148 yards on only 19 carries last season despite a relatively modest year with 540 yards on the season. It will be interesting to see how much the Panthers focus on him following his big game in 2014.

Also, many eyes will be on quarterback Tra'Von Chapman - a former recruit that was dismissed by Paul Chryst after assault charges. Chapman is getting time on the field with Akron, sharing some time with Kyle Pohl. He didn't look great in the team's game against Oklahoma this weekend (0-8 passing with 48 yards rushing), but you can bet that he'll want to make an impact against his former team. He was at one time a four-star quarterback and when he's in the game, Pitt will need to contain his scrambling ability.

It's very difficult to pick against Pitt in these sorts of games, but after what the Zips accomplished at Heinz Field, like Youngstown State, they obviously cannot be overlooked.

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