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Pitt vs. Akron Q&A with Hustle Belt

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In advance of Saturday's Pitt-Akron game, Matt over from Hustle Belt (SB Nation's MAC site) lobbed some questions my way for their site. Head on over there to see my answers.

In exchange, he also answered a few for us and you can see his answers below.

Obviously Akron wasn't able to do much against Oklahoma this weekend in a 41-3 loss on the road. Did the team do anything in that game that was encouraging for the season ahead?

Offensively, no. The quarterbacks threw just 6-26 for 88 yards. The new offense that Terry Bowden is trying out is centered around running the ball, and 138 yards on 44 carries is not going to win you any games. The only good thing about that is Oklahoma may have the best defense that the Zips face all year.

The encouraging part of Akron's loss was the overall play of the defense. They were able to hold running back Samaje Perine to just 33 yards on 11 carries, as well as keeping the Sooners' rushing attack in check as a whole. Oklahoma ran 33 times for just 100 yards. The defense became worn down later on in the game because the offense couldn't move the ball, and Baker Mayfield was able to beat the Zips with his arm. So, the most encouraging part of the loss was definitely the Akron run defense.

Pitt fans are obviously most interested in quarterback Tra'Von Chapman, a former Panthers recruit, who was dismissed from the program. Any idea how he'll be utilized going forward this season and what's the word on how he's doing?

Chapman made the start for the Zips on Saturday, but both he and Kyle Pohl took snaps throughout the game. Chapman finished 0-8 passing and ran 14 times for 48 yards. It was easy to see that he is a great athlete, but Akron's offensive line wasn't giving him much help. As far as the passing goes, he had a hard time against Oklahoma. He was always on the run and never had a chance to stay in the pocket and throw. I'd expect him to be in on most of the designed quarterback runs moving forward. There has just been the one game that he's played in an Akron uniform so far, so I wish I could tell you more about him.

The Panthers had a lot of problems with Akron's running game last season. What is expected of that unit in 2015?

Akron is going to be running the ball a lot as compared to 2014 when they liked to throw the ball a lot. A look at the offense last week showed that Bowden is very serious about wanting to run the ball. I've never seen three players in an Akron uniform line up in a three-point stance in the backfield. The move to a running philosophy comes after Akron struggled to move the ball through the air last year. Saturday's game against Oklahoma showed that the offensive line isn't as good as it should be. There is a lot of experience among that group that shouldn't have been so easily handled by the Oklahoma front. I expect the new offense to improve throughout the season, and a strong showing against Pitt could help with confidence in the whole unit.

Who are the standout players Pitt fans should be watching for on Saturday?

Pitt fans should, and will, look out for Chapman. His first home game as a Zip is against the program that he was once going to be the leader of. He'll probably be nervous and make a few mistakes in the game. His athleticism could make him into a great dual threat quarterback at the FBS level, but he's still pretty new to the college game, and it could take him some time to get the hang of this new offense.

Another player that Pitt fans should keep an eye out for is a familiar name. Jerome Lane Jr. made the switch from safety to wide receiver just a few weeks ago, and made 3 catches for 57 yards against Oklahoma. He's the type of guy that can play anywhere on the field on offense or defense. Obviously, Pitt fans recognize the name because of his father, who played basketball at Pitt and is famous for breaking the backboard on a dunk in 1988.

What's your game prediction?

The injury to running back James Conner is a huge blow to the Panthers, and I feel terrible for both he and the team. As far as football goes, the depth at that positions is hurt for Pitt, but Qadree Ollison has shown that he can also be a great back.

The return of receiver Tyler Boyd will also be a big help now as the passing game seemed to struggle mightily against Youngstown State last week. With Akron's new running philosophy on offense, and Pitt's struggling passing game, I expect this to be a very fast game with relatively little scoring. It could honestly be a lot like last year's game between the two teams. That said, I think Akron will get a big win this week. I'm going with Akron 17, Pitt 10 in defensive battle. Also, if any Pitt fans make the trip, please have a good time and have a safe trip!

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