Miami limps into their regular season finale losers of their last two. They'll try to stop the bleeding with a win at home against the Pittsburgh Panthers. It's not that they lost the last two games; one was a valiant effort against the reigning national champions who haven't lost in two seasons. It was Miami's last game that deflated the fan base. It was their last game that made even the most optimistic of the Canes Fam question "if we are truly going full speed ahead, is it in the right direction?" A win this week against ACC Coastal member Pitt won't answer that question and won't make anyone feel much better, but it's all that the team and coaching staff can do at the moment, and it's a start.
Pitt comes in at 5-6, and will be looking to end their season on a bit of a high note with a win over the up and down 6-5 Hurricanes. They've been close in most of their games, with four losses coming by five points or less. Both teams are 3-4 in the ACC, so if you judge your team's season on whether they finish at least .500 in the Coastal, this game has HUGE implications. Joking aside, a win would help in bowl game slotting for either team. so add that to the other obvious reasons why winning is good.
If all that conference intrigue didn't hook you, here's something that will. Senior Day. Senior Day and more than likely -Duke Johnson thank you forever and ever day. Saturday night the members of the senior class (Denzel Perryman, Phillip Dorsett, Clive Walford among many others) will take to the Sun Life stadium field for one last time; that deserves your attention, regardless of how you may feel about the current state of the program.
It also should mark the last time Duke pads up for the Canes. He's only a junior so he has another year of eligibility; but as much as I'd love to see him stay - if you love something let it go (to make $$$ in the NFL.) We knew before the final whistle blew on his first game that he was a three year special talent; so if you didn't take the opportunity to enjoy him while he was here, I'm sorry and suggest you get familiar with YouTube. I'm not sure any one player has meant more to the program - he helped keep Miami above water by simply becoming a Hurricane. He could have (and honestly should have) gone anywhere. He put the city and program on his back, so this Saturday if you cannot support the staff, support him and the rest of the players.
Pitt: Ok... as for this week, Pitt comes in with one of the top running attacks in the country, averaging over 250 yards a game. Miami never has any issue with stopping the run, so nothing to worry about here. Miami's headache this week is named James Conner; the 6-2, 250 lb bulldozer has had a busy year having six games with 25 or more carries - three of those he had 30 or more. In those three 30 carry games, his lowest yards per attempt was 5.9. He has 1,600 yards rushing on the year, averages 6.1 yards per attempt and has 22TDs. Terrifying. Miami's best secondary run stopper Deon Bush is listed as out for Saturday night, and I'm at a loss for words to explain just how disastrous this is setting up to be for Miami on paper. Maybe Conner will be tired and sleep through his alarm on game day, or decide he doesn't want to play football anymore, but in the off chance those don't pan out, D'Onofrio will need to have the defense ready to go. He did leave last week's game due to a hip issue and is questionable, but Pitt seemed pretty calm about it this week so I'm thinking he will be ready to go. If he is, out look for Chris James to fill in; last week he took over and did just fine rushing for 122 yards on 19 carries.
Passing wise Pitt isn't as scary - ranking 102nd in the nation, averaging about 190 yards a game. Now with the running game they have they don't really need to get too fancy. Chad Voytik is 62.5% on the year with about 1900 yards,14 Tds and 7 Ints. He can run. He has five games in which he's had over 40 yards rushing; two of which he went for over 100. When passing, he looks for leading receiver Tyler Boyd. The 6-2 WR has 64 catches on the season and over a thousand yards receiving. He's averaging nearly 17 yards a catch and has 7Tds. Taking full advantage of a great run game, the Pitt WR has had 126 yards or more receiving in his past four games. With both Boyd and Conner being sophomores, Pitt fans may have had a rough year but should feel pretty good about next season.
Miami: The same O line that played against FSU played against VA. It's hard to process that, being that the two performances could not have been any more different. Why do I lead with this? Because nothing works without blocking. The awesome but young QB can't awesome if he's constantly picking turf out of his face mask. Duke Johnson with all his talent cannot magicly teleport around a wall of men (ok he has in the past but you see what I'm getting at.) Hopefully the group has enough pride to come out and improve on whatever that was last week, because if not it's going to be another long night.
Rushing: Duke should be able to go out with record in hand, only needing 34 yards to slide into first place on Miami's all-time rushing list. Crazy when you think he still has a year; it shows just how talented he is, but also just how much Miami has needed him. Being that it's most likely his last ride as a Cane, that stiff arm will be delivered with a bit more vigor. Take it in, because he may play for your favorite NFL teams' rival. He's averaging 7.2 yards per carry and has just under 1,500 yards so far this season. Pitt ranks 25th in overall defense and 56th against the rush, giving up about 160 yards a game.
Passing: Brad Kaaya will hopefully stay a bit cleaner this week. He's at 60% this season, with 23 TDs, 11ints and 2666 yards passing. Pitt has the 15th ranked pass defense nationally so it will not come easy. He will get to utilize seniors Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett for the last time at home; and if you add on Duke, you have 96 of his 180 completions moving on. He should use them up while he has them. The last time I can remember Stacy Coley being Stacy Coley was against Pitt last season; so hopefully this week somehow reminds him that he's awesome and jump starts him for next season? I love Hugo Delepenha, I do, but when Hugo has more TDs on the season than Stacy Coley... Something... Has... Gone... Wrong.
Defensively Miami has a tough task. Without Bush they seemed unwilling to take any chances and reverted back to the old, not very good (and hard to watch) defense. Hopefully they came up with something this week for Pitt's running game, but either way Denzel Perryman and crew are going to be sore by night's end. Players up front like Olen Pierre (Golden's first ever recruit) will need to close running lanes and not let Conner build momentum. Miami will need to have a good game out of the safety position; between the stout running game and big play ability of Boyd in the passing game, they will need to be close to perfect. Support the run defense without letting a WR run free down field - easy enough. Right?
Prediction: Miami 27 Pitt 17 or Miami 14 Pitt 36
Notes and watch info:
Series History: Miami leads 23-9-1
At Miami: Miami leads 12-4-1
Last Meeting: Miami won 41-31 (Pittsburgh, Pa., 2013)
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