While it wasn’t the way fans might have expected it, the Miami Hurricanes overcame a slow start at home last week and eventually defeated the Virginia Cavaliers 44-28. The Hurricanes scored 30 unanswered points behind a defense that put the clamps down on the Cavaliers in the second half.
Miami (10-0, 7-0 ACC) now takes aim at its first undefeated regular season since 2002 as the Hurricanes travel to Pittsburgh (4-7, 2-5) to take on the Panthers at Heinz Field on Black Friday.
Pitt lost a heartbreaking game to Virginia Tech last week 20-14. On their final drive, freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett connected with Jester Weah for a 74-yard completion that got the Panthers to the Hokies’ 1-yard line with less than 30 seconds in regulation. But Pitt’s offense failed to get in the end zone on four attempts as the Panthers lost their second in a row and saw any realistic shot at a bowl game go by the wayside as well.
Friday will mark the 36th meeting between Miami and Pittsburgh, who also were in the Big East together from 1991-2004. The Hurricanes hold a 25-10-1 advantage in the all-time series.
Miami at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 24 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Miami -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Hurricanes’ defense
If someone looked at the stat sheet after Miami’s victory last week against Virginia, it would appear that the Hurricanes’ defense had a terrible day. Although the Cavaliers outgained (439 to 358) and finished with more first downs (18 vs. 15) than Miami, most of the damage was done in the first half. The Hurricanes stiffened in the third and fourth quarters, shutting out the Cavaliers over the last 27 minutes and coming up with a big pick-six to tie the game in the third quarter. Miami also held Virginia to just 55 rushing yards (on 28 carries) the entire day.
For Pittsburgh, three of the Panthers’ past four losses have come by no more than six points. Last week, despite hanging tough in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech, Pitt failed on four attempts from the 1-yard line to get in the end zone on its final drive. The Panthers also missed a field goal and threw two interceptions as they were basically even with the Hokies in both total yards (366 to 375 for Tech) and first downs (16 vs. 18).
Those two interceptions last week were costly, and it’s something Pitt cannot afford against a Miami defense that’s forced the third-most takeaways in the nation (27). What’s more the Hurricanes are No. 1 in turnover margin (+16, 1.60 per game) so the Panthers will need to be at their best to have any chance of pulling off the upset.
2. Pitt’s quarterback situation
The Panthers burned freshman Kenny Pickett’s redshirt on Oct. 7 when senior Max Browne suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and backup Ben DiNucci had to sit out a few plays because he had his helmet knocked off.
Pickett hadn’t played much since then until last week against Virginia Tech. He replaced DiNucci in the second quarter, finishing the game with 242 passing yards and an interception while completing 15 of his 23 attempts.
As of now, DiNucci and Pickett are listed as co-starters on the depth chart and head coach Pat Narduzzi (above, right) has said he hasn’t decided who will get the nod against Miami.
“Play it by ear, see practice and we go with it that way,” Narduzzi said in a press conference on Monday. “If we don’t practice good, it’s hard to start a guy that doesn’t practice... There’s constant competition. I don’t care what position it is.”
Pickett was sharp in the final minutes against the Hokies, nearly leading them to a last-second win in Blacksburg. Was it enough to give him the edge over DiNucci?
3. Malik Rosier
While Rosier wasn’t the best quarterback on the field during Miami’s come-from-behind victory, he might have been the most resilient.
Rosier ended the day completing 15 of 28 passes for 210 yards with four total touchdowns (three passing) and two interceptions.
Not only can Rosier make plays with his arm, he also has been somewhat effective when he’s run the ball. He ranks seventh among ACC quarterbacks in yards per carry (3.8) with 377 total yards and five touchdowns on 100 attempts. Rosier has accounted for 28 total touchdowns on the season as he’s fourth in the conference in passing with 2,620 yards.
Pittsburgh is 80th in the nation in total defense, giving up 411.5 yards per game. So, the Panthers could struggle to contain Rosier and the Hurricanes’ offense.
The Hurricanes have played some close games this season against inferior competition. So, Miami must be ready on a short week to play a Pittsburgh team that played Virginia Tech tough last week.
While the Hurricanes may start slow, expect quarterback Malik Rosier and running back Travis Homer to run wild over a Panthers defense that is below average.
Miami should be able to win this game rather easily as the Hurricanes wraps up an undefeated regular season and shifts their focus to next week’s ACC Championship Game matchup with Clemson.
Prediction: Miami 34, Pittsburgh 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.