Senior Day at the Rock. The last game of the season. A good-ole fashioned revenge game. A meeting with the, believe it or not, Coastal champion Pittsburgh Panthers is where the torturous 2018 campaign will end it’s calendar of ACC play.
Miami ended it’s death spiral last week, crushing a similarly flailing Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg, running away from the Hokies in the second half to the tune of 38-14. Miami’s 21 third quarter points were a good omen of what this offense can do with N’Kosi Perry at the helm and, even while hampered by ineffective and inconsistent playcalling, they still managed to run over VT.
Will Miami be able to continue the offensive momentum against a below average Pitt defense?
Miami Offense vs Pittsburgh Defense
Miami’s offense will be missing their best receivers going against the best team in the Coastal. The Hurricanes are out of tight ends this week, so expect to see a lot of four WR sets and perhaps some Trayone Gray at TE. These losses are only further exasperated by the announcement Wednesday that Jeff Thomas is no longer with the team. Just like that, Miami lost it’s top two receivers, both of which were first round NFL talents, for good and have slowly succumbed to injury at TE as the season has progressed. This means Lawrence Cager, Mike Harley and the freshmen (looking at you no’s. 7 & 8) will need to step up and keep this offense moving.
Last week we saw what N’Kosi Perry can do with a longer leash and, against a team that allowed 38 against UNC and 45 against Duke, the Canes should be able to hit at least 30 against the Panthers. Cam’ron Davis is a burgeoning star and if he, Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas can get the ground game going, then the deficit of passing weapons should not be a worry.
As a defense, statistically, Pittsburgh is only average against the run and below average against the pass. While they shut down Notre Dame in a close loss and kept Wake Forest and Virginia under 20 points each, going on the road to play a team with as much talent as Miami may be the biggest conference test they face this season. Much of the onus lies on Miami to go out and have a second straight game of sustained offensive play that stresses the opposing defense.
Miami Defense vs Pittsburgh Offense
Miami’s defense is still among the best in the nation, a tier behind the absurd excellence of Alabama but still it has mostly rounded into form and played well while the offense has failed them. Yes there have been ugly spots during the year, but if not for this defense, bowl eligibility could already be out the window.
The Canes should be able to get after Pitt QB Kenny Pickett early and often throughout this game. However, the Turnover Chain could figure to be the x-factor. Pickett only has a 53.6 QBR rating but has kept turnovers low with just five interceptions thrown this season. Pickett and his offensive line has yet to see the likes of Gerald Willis, Joe Jackson and Jon Garvin collapse the pocket however, so Miami ought to be able to get a handful of sacks and force one or two turnovers.
The biggest challenge for Miami will be stopping Pittsburgh’s powerful 1-2 senior punch at runningback. Qadree Ollison leads the backfield in touches and yards with 167 and 1106 respectively but Darrin Hall is an explosive compliment, averaging 8.1 ypc on 109 carries.
Hall gashed Virginia for 229 yards and then followed it up with 186 yards on just seven carries the following week versus Virginia Tech. Not to be outdone, Ollison added 235 against Tech, 149 against Duke and almost 200 earlier in the year facing Syracuse.
Miami has had some difficulty against the run this season, missing a true compliment to Gerald Willis II on the inside, so stopping Pittsburgh’s talented duo will be priority one to making sure the Panther’s offense doesn’t get on track.
Everyone is picking Miami despite the record and ranking saying otherwise. The spread is -6 in favor of the Canes and ESPN’s power ranking index gives the home team an 80% chance to win. Even with the Jeff Thomas cloud and absence of TEs hurting this squad, this should be a team hungry to knock the Coastal champs down a peg and give themselves a two game winning streak following a nightmarish four game skid.
If Miami can jump on Pittsburgh early, they should be able to start celebrating Senior Day early. As always,