This is the end. Well, at least one ending. Saturday’s home finale against Pitt doubles as the regular season finale for the Hurricanes. To top it all off, UM will also be celebrating Senior Day for 14 Hurricanes as they move on from the program in coming months. There’s sure to be plenty of emotion from these motivated players at Hard Rock Stadium for these reasons and more.
Revenge against a Pitt program that gutted Miami’s bid at a perfect regular season in 2017 serves as an added incentive to win. This time around, it’s the Canes who assume the role of spoilers, with the Panthers poised to represent the ACC Coastal next week in Charlotte.
Iron Sharpens Iron (One vs One Matchup)
Pitt WR Maurice Ffrench vs Miami CB Trajan Bandy
There are plenty of playmakers on the 2018 version of the Pitt Panthers. The headliners of the offense are assuredly from the running game. However, the Panthers’ most dynamic athlete lines up at wide receiver, occasionally. The 5’11”, 190 pound junior has been Pitt’s most explosive receiver, amassing 453 receiving yards on 27 receptions for six TDs this season. Panthers’ offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will move Ffrench around, providing misdirection along with getting the ball in th receiver’s hands through non-traditional avenues. With the exception of two games, the junior has a rush attempt in every game in 2018, scoring twice on 16 carries. Let’s not leave out that Ffrench has two kickoff returns on special teams as well.
The case can be made that Trajan Bandy has been the Hurricanes’ most productive cornerback this season. Leading the way with three interceptions, seven pass breakups and being a pitbull at making tackles, Bandy has been the total package for the Canes. That said, Ffrench will be a tough assignment for Bandy to limit on his own. With the threat of the Panthers’ running game, there’s a high probability that he will be left on an island. Muddy B excels at staying on the hip of his matchup, executing a blend of technique and instinct to make plays in coverage. His Achilles’ heel is when opponents use their size to outreach the 5’9” DB. With height not being a big factor this week, it’ll be intriguing to see how Bandy handles the assignment.
Positional Matchup of the Week
Pitt’s Running Game vs Miami’s Front-Seven
Stopping the run continues to be the mantra for the Hurricanes’ defense this season. Pitt owns the third best rushing offense in the ACC, averaging 247.5 yards-per-game. The Panthers own an ACC-best 310.3 rushing average at home. However, on the road, that number plummets to 172.2 per game. It’s a two-headed attack in the backfield, between seniors Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison. In all of Pitt’s wins in 2018, the team has rushed for at least 130 yards, having surpassed 400 yards in their past four games. Hall and Ollison are a throwback to the classic Power and Speed back dynamic that was popular almost a decade ago. Ollison is the Frank Castle of the backfield, punishing defenders by lowering his shoulders while inviting contact. Hall, who likes to take his fair amount of bumps, provides the home run threat for the Panthers. Hall leads the ACC in runs over 40 and 50 yards in conference — meaning a gasp of daylight could result in a six-point hiccup.
We’ve talked about how well the Hurricanes’ front-seven has performed during the year. However, that standard of play has diminished over the last few weeks. Against Georgia Tech, UM allowed 231 rushing yards. That’s to be expected when you battle GT. However, allowing 119 rushing yards against Virginia Tech illustrates a return to form for a defense that has not folded, despite the struggles of the season.
In this final game of regular season, it would be nice to see the Hurricanes turn in a classic performance — we’re talking 2001 era, here — in the final home game of the year.
Caneseye Players to Watch
QB Kenny Pickett
Hurricanes fans should remember the name well. Pickett was the maestro of Miami’s ultimate demise in 2017. Last year, the Panther QB passed for 193 yards and a touchdown in a monumental upset of the then No.2 ranked Hurricanes. Rushing for 60 yards and scoring two touchdowns against Miami a year ago, the New Jersey native’s ability to pick up yardage with his leg is integral to his overall game.
This time around, the Hurricanes have a better idea of the type of passer they’ll be competing against. Pickett loves to throw fastballs, putting as much juice into each throw as possible. He’s another QB who will still down his first option on a given play. Despite five interceptions on the season, Pickett does show an ability to provide great touch and accuracy on throws downfield. Although gifted with the athleticism to scramble out of harm’s way, Pickett exhibits the type of poise in the pocket you’d expect of an experienced QB.
DE Joe Jackson
After this game, the questions will surely arise whether DE Joe Jackson played his final game in front of the home crowd at Hard Rock Stadium or not. Regardless of what way the junior DE is leaning, the most important game is the one right in front of him. Jackson will go toe-to-toe with Panthers’ senior right tackle Stefano Millin. No. 99 came away with four tackles in the game, yet the Canes fell short of picking up the win. Sporting a team-leading 6.5 sacks entering Saturday, it will be intriguing to see what kind of pressure the Homestead Florida product can generate in the season finale.
RB Cam’ron Davis
2018 was supposed to be a quiet season for freshman running back Cam’ron Davis. UM already had a loaded backfield, with Davis considered an afterthought when it comes to providing production for UM in year one. Cam’ron Davis didn’t care about those predictions and has flourished in his last three outings at tailback. Accounting for 125 rushing yards over the last couple of games, Davis has found the endzone for three scores in that same length of time.
On a day when UM will honor its seniors, it could be a freshman that continues to steal the spotlight with a display of speed and elusiveness to pick up big yardage.
DL Rashad Weaver
With a resume like Dewayne Hendrix’s, it’s no wonder the marquee for the Pitt defense features the excellent end’s name in the brightest of lights. Yet, it’s sophomore DE Rashad Weaver who leads the Panthers with 12 TFL, 5.5 sacks and 8 QB hurries. Weaver has a TFL in all but one game in 2018, which is indicative of his ability to be a disruptive force coming off the wides side of the field. Miami offensive tackle Delone Scaife, who has improved with each start this season, will see plenty of Weaver after kickoff.
LB Michael Pinckney
Last week’s surprising announcement that LB Michael Pinckney did not make the trip to Virginia Tech took many by surprise. However, one of UM’s more vocal and physical presences will be back on the field in his No.56 jersey. The return comes on the right week, with Pitt’s vaunted running game expected to be featured Saturday afternoon. The Hurricanes will need their talented outside ‘backer to add to his 8.5 tackles-for-loss and help take away the underneath options for a capable Panthers’ passing attack.
S Demar Hamlin
Even though he’s listed at free safety, junior Demar Hamlin just may be the Panthers’ best defensive back in coverage. A week ago, Hamlin was able to tip a pass into the air with the awareness to come back down with the interception. It’s the type of play that has Hamlin entering the final game of the regular season with two interceptions, 70 tackles, three TFL and two pass breakups. Given the threat of Miami WR Jeff Thomas, Hamlin is more likely to be playing well off the line of scrimmage. However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Pitt defensive coordinator give No. 3 some man coverage assignments.
One Last Thing
Miami owns the all-time series record with 25-11-1.
The last time Pitt defeated the Hurricanes at home was in 2014 by the score of 35-23.
This past Wednesday was a tumultuous 24 hours for Miami. After the dust had settled, the Hurricanes dismissed WR Jeff Thomas from the team. The East St. Louis, Illinois native led Miami with 35 receptions and 563 receiving yards. Gaining notoriety for his downfield speed and ability stop and start, Thomas was considered the most dynamic receiver on roster. With WR Ahmmon Richards career cut short due to a serious neck issue, Thomas became the de facto lead dog among UM’s pass catchers.
Someone else will need to step up for the Canes. UM is loaded with young talent at the position. Wide receivers Mark Pope, Brian Hightower, Marquez Ezzard, and Dee Wiggins are all freshmen. The only upperclassmen at the position are redshirt junior Lawrence Cager and senior Darrell Langham.
Forgotten in all of this calamity, the Hurricanes are down to just one healthy tight end. Walk-on Nicholas Ducheine is the lone survivor at tight end. The last two remaining scholarship TEs Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory both suffered injuries in Miami’s 38-14 win against Virginia Tech. It’ll be fascinating to see how and who the Canes will turn to this week in the final home game of the season.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!