After a 4-0 start to the season, Miami was thinking about potentially winning the ACC Coastal Division and playing in Orlando for the conference championship. Now that the team enters the final month of the college football regular season, the Hurricanes (4-4, 1-3 ACC) are fighting to simply become bowl eligible.
Miami has lost its last four games and has looked like a much different team since coming up just short in a 20-19 loss to Florida State on Oct. 8. The Hurricanes’ latest defeat came against Notre Dame last week, a 30-27 loss in South Bend. Miami will be looking to get back on track at Hard Rock Stadium this Saturday against Pittsburgh, who also is coming off a loss.
The Panthers (5-3, 2-2) fell to Virginia Tech 39-36 in Blacksburg last Thursday night. Having lost to North Carolina earlier, Pittsburgh is not only a game behind both the Tar Heels and the Hokies; it’s also on the wrong end of the head-to-head tiebreaker with each team. All three of Pittsburgh’s losses this season have come by a combined total of 11 points (3.7 points per game).
Saturday will be the 36th meeting between the Panthers and Hurricanes. Miami leads the all-time series over Pittsburgh with a mark of 24-10-1. In their meeting last season, the Hurricanes defeated the Panthers 29-24.
Pittsburgh at Miami
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network/ESPN3
Spread: Miami -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Hurricanes’ Offensive Line
In last week’s loss to Notre Dame, Miami’s offensive line gave up five sacks and quarterback Brad Kaaya was pressured throughout the game. The Hurricanes were also held to a season-low 18 rushing yards after managing just 42 against Virginia Tech the week before that. Miami will face a tough test on Saturday against one of the most productive pass rushes in the FBS. Pittsburgh ranks fifth nationally and second in the ACC in sacks with 3.5 per game.
Ejuan Price, who was named as a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award (most outstanding defensive player), has been one of the most disruptive pass rushers in college football this season. Price ranks first in the nation in tackles for a loss per game (2.0), second in sacks per game (1.13) and 15th in forced fumbles (.38).
Miami had a hard time with teams like North Carolina and Notre Dame putting pressure on Kaaya, and Pittsburgh comes in with even more impressive statistics in this respect, not to mention the presence of an impact player like Price. If the Hurricanes can’t find a way to provide Kaaya with time to throw and prevent the Panther defenders from making plays behind the line of scrimmage, it could be yet another long day for Miami’s offense.
2. James Conner
Conner, Pittsburgh’s top running back, has been one of the better stories in college football this season. Last season, Conner battled cancer and some might have thought the former ACC Player of the Year might not step on the field again.
Not only has Conner returned to the field, but he also is once again among the ACC leaders in rushing. Conner is fourth with 672 rushing yards (4.7 ypc), and he’s third in rushing touchdowns with 10. In the last two games, Miami has given up nearly 200 rushing yards per contest. Containing Conner and the rest of the Panthers’ running game will be a huge priority for the Hurricanes’ defense.
3. Turnover Margin
Pittsburgh is one of the nation’s best teams when it comes to turnover margin. The Panthers are plus-3 with 11 takeaways compared to eight turnovers. That ranks third in the ACC and tied for 36th nationally. Miami also doesn’t turn the ball over a lot either, as the Hurricanes enter this game with a plus-2 turnover differential (tied for 4th in ACC, tied for 43rd in the FBS). They have 10 takeaways compared to just eight turnovers.
In a game that’s expected to be close throughout, a turnover or two could determine which team comes out on top.
Offensively, Pittsburgh is averaging 38.1 points per game, while Miami isn’t too far behind at 32.9. The problem is, the Hurricanes have averaged less than 19 points per contest during their current four-game losing streak. The Panthers are giving up 32.4 points per game on the season, so this matchup could feature plenty of offensive fireworks.
Miami’s offensive line continues to be a huge issue for this team, so the Panthers’ defense could force Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya into some mistakes (or to the ground) with their pressure. Miami’s issues up front on offense could likely end up being the difference in another disappointing loss for the Hurricanes.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 34, Miami 27
— 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.