Pitt, Conner looking to run past FIU for 3-0 start
MIAMI (AP) Through two games, FIU's defense has put up some quality numbers against the run.
Neither of those games involved James Conner.
FIU (1-1) will be stepping up in opponent class Saturday, when Pittsburgh (2-0) makes its first of two trips to the Miami area this season. Pitt flies south again to close the regular season in a Nov. 29 meeting against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Miami.
Conner has been Pitt's workhorse, and the game within the game Saturday will be how he fares against an FIU defense that has allowed just 2.3 yards per carry - though it should be noted those stats came against Bethune-Cookman and Wagner, neither school being part of college football's upper echelon.
Conner was near the top of just about every imaginable national rushing chart after two weeks. He was tied for the national lead coming into Week 3 with five touchdowns, was second with 367 yards and fourth in carries with 50.
''I think that he's kind of built for it,'' Pitt coach Paul Chryst said.
The sample size is small, but the start looks staggering nonetheless.
He's averaging 9.8 yards per carry in the first half, 7.1 yards per carry on first down, and has 10 runs for at least 10 yards already.
''He does a tremendous job,'' FIU coach Ron Turner said of Conner. ''That's what they're going to want to do, so they are going to line up and run the ball. Schematically they are very sound and very good. They've got good people doing it, so it's going to be a huge challenge.''
And big challenges have led to big problems for FIU in recent times.
FIU is coming off a 34-3 win over Wagner, and has a chance to go over the .500 mark for the first time since the end of the 2011 season.
Here's what else to look for in this Panthers-versus-Panthers matchup:
BIG START: Pitt's last time ending a season as a member of the AP Top 25 and with at least 10 victories was 2009 - which just happens to be the last time the Panthers started 3-0. A win on Saturday would give Pitt that mark to open this season, and maybe with it a chance to build some real momentum for upcoming home games with Iowa and Akron.
CARRYOVER EFFECT: For a program desperate to get something going, the win over Wagner had to provide hope. Having Pitt and Louisville visit on consecutive Saturdays is big for FIU - which had lost 13 of its last 14 games before last weekend. In the two games immediately following its lone win last season, FIU was more competitive and Turner has to hope the same applies now.
WEATHER WATCH: It's been getting cooler in Pittsburgh, the seasons starting to change again. That's not the case in Miami, where the heat index - the combination of temperature and humidity - could make it feel like game-time temperatures are in the 90s on Saturday afternoon. It's something Pitt will have to get used to quickly.
ROAD COOKING: Playing at home has not been an advantage for FIU of late. FIU had lost 12 straight in its on-campus stadium before the win over Wagner, and has not beaten a FBS program at home since edging Akron 41-38 on Sept. 8, 2012. Plus, Pitt is expecting plenty of its fans to be in attendance, including a number of former players.
FIU QUARTERBACKS: Turner has been considered a quarterback guru - the man once coached Peyton Manning - and FIU has two off to solid starts. True freshman Alex McGough has completed 22 of 45 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, while veteran E.J. Hilliard is 17 of 22 for 195 yards. A stat to watch: FIU has not thrown an interception yet this season, and Pitt's secondary has already picked off five passes in 2014.