One more game. That is all that remains of the 2017 regular season for the Hurricanes. Miami makes a trip up north to the giant ketchup bottle that is Heinz Field to take on the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. A victory secures Miami’s first undefeated regular season since 2002.
With plenty of factors working against Miami, including a short week of preparation, chilly weather and a road game on senior day for Pitt, Miami does not have the luxury of taking this game for granted.
One vs. One Matchup
QB Kenny Pickett (six-foot-two, 215 pounds) vs. S Jaquan Johnson (five-foot-eleven, 190 pounds)
By all measures, it’s has been a miserable season for the Panthers, particularly on offense. The primary culprit for their struggles goes back to Pitt finding an answer at quarterback. Freshman QB Kenny Pickett was tapped to be the signal-caller after QB Ben DiNucci struggled early against Virginia Tech last weekend. Against a respectable VT defense, Pickett put up decent numbers, completing 15 of his 23 passes for 242 passing yards, adding 15 yards on the ground. Described by the Pitt staff as being the best pure-passer on the roster, Pickett will get the start in the final game of the season as the Panthers try to figure out if he can be part of the solution moving forward.
Certainly living up the his nickname of “The Franchise”, Jaquan Johnson has shone brightest since the calendar flipped over to November. Riding a three-game interception streak, Johnson has four interceptions in Miami’s last five games. Johnson’s ability to identify offensive formations, cover ground in pursuit of the ball and reliability wrapping up ball carriers with a team-leading 75 tackles helps explain the growing sentiment of why No. 4 is in the conversation of being one of the best safeties in college football. Against a freshman quarterback making his first start of the season, Johnson and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will look to fluster the young Pittsburgh pivot.
Miami’s Running Game vs. Pitt’s Front-Seven
In inclement weather, it’s usually best to have good ground support. Since putting up just 59 rushing yards against North Carolina four weeks ago, Miami has rushed for an average of 198 yards-per-game in their last three games. RB Travis Homer has provided the tough between the tackles running game that the ’Canes needed with RB Mark Walton out for the season.
The running ability of QB Malik Rosier has been the difference all season long for the Hurricanes, forcing the hand of opposing defenses to leave a spy or watch as Rosier scurries out of the pocket for a first down. The addition of RB/WR DeeJay Dallas provides an exciting dynamic to UM’s run game based on his elusiveness and versatility in handling the ball from multiple positions. With the weather getting cold, expect the ’Canes to be running hot Saturday afternoon.
Pitt’s run defense gives up 4.3 yards-per-carry this season. Having given up just one rushing touchdown in their last four games, the Panthers will look to put the clamp down on a Hurricanes’ rushing attack that has scored seven touchdowns in their last three games. Led by LB Oluwaseun Idowu—who leads the team with 86 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks—Pitt has a defensive group that resembles the hard-nosed approach of head coach Pat Narduzzi. Known more for being a pass-rusher, DE Dewayne Hendrix can set the edge against the run, displaying his versatility. Freshman DL Keyshon Camp helps to plug up the middle of the defensive line. With nothing to lose, the Panthers will go all-out to let their seniors end on a win in their final game at Heinz Field, as well as ruining Miami’s chance at an undefeated season.
Caneseye Players to Watch
Fitting that on senior day for Pitt, we highlight a senior for the Panthers. Avonte Maddox is a feisty five-foot-nine cornerback plays big regardless of his size. He leads all Panthers defenders with two interceptions, nine pass breakups and is credited with two forced fumbles. Teammate DB Dane Jackson is just as good as Maddox when it comes to deflecting the ball in coverage, yet Maddox is by far Pitt’s best cover corner who has the potential to impact Miami’s offensive gameplan.
After failing last week to punch the ball in from the one-yard line against Virginia Tech, we could see an inspired RB Darrin Hall Saturday afternoon. If the meltdown at the goaline was not enough, Hall’s three-game streak of 100+ rushing yards ended abruptly with 15 carries for four yards against the Hokies. A north-south runner, Hall does not waste much time at the line of scrimmage. Given Miami’s slow start to games, especially on the road, the Panthers will look to ground-and-pound a Miami squad playing in the northeast.
Over the past couple of weeks, WR Lawrence Cager has re-emerged from the sidelines to make some remarkable grabs. Playing to his six-foot-five frame, Cager’s ability to go over the top of defenders to snatch the pass is a talent that you see showcased on Sundays more than on Saturdays. If everything plays out right, Cager should be a fixture of ‘You Got Mossed’.
Plenty of the attention goes to Jaquan Johnson, and it is well deserved. However, Sheldrick Redwine has put together as fine a season as the other safety in the defense. Redwine’s two fumbles and five pass breakups are part of the reason why the ‘Turnover Chain’ has gone from viral sensation to national phenomenon. Look for Redwine to make an impact in run support as Miami’s starter will look to go up big against the Panthers.
With the exception of Syracuse, no team has allowed more sacks in the ACC this season than Pitt. The Panthers have allowed the QB to go down 30 times this season, with an average of 2.7 sacks-per-game. Miami’s 38 sacks on defense is just one behind Clemson for the ACC lead in the category. One day after Thanksgiving, there could still be plenty to feast on for the Hurricanes’ defense on Black Friday.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!