I don’t have to remind anyone that Miami was ranked the number two team in the nation heading into a late-November matchup with the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Hurricanes were 10-0 and fresh off a come-back victory against Virginia just six days before they traveled to Pittsburgh. It simply wasn’t the Hurricanes day offensively. They tallied a staggering 45 yards rushing and were 4-15 on third down attempts, most of which were third and long. I could tell you Malik Rosier was not healthy (which is true) or that the offensive line was abysmal (also true), but the fact of the matter is that Miami blew it. Luckily, that is all in the past and Mark Richt and Co. have an opportunity to play Pitt again in 2018 on the same exact date that they fell to them a year ago – November 24th.
Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett will be the starter full-time in 2018 after a solid two game stretch to end his true-freshman season in which he went 33-52 for 435 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a loss to Virginia Tech and a massive win over Miami. He does, however, lose a lot of the weapons that contributed to the victory over Miami last fall, including three of the team’s top four rushers and one of the team’s hybrid playmakers in Quadree Henderson.
The team’s leading rusher, Darrin Hall, and second-leading receiver, Rafael Araujo-Lopes, are back for their senior years and will likely be the team’s leaders in those categories in 2018. But it was really the Panther’s defense stalling the Miami offense that lead to one of the biggest upsets in all of college football last year.
Linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu, the team’s leading tackler, returns and is coming off a year that he generated 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. Senior cornerback Avonte Maddox sacked Rosier twice in the matchup last year, including the strip-sack to end the game after Miami recovered an onside kick. And then there is the 6-5 265 pound DE Rashad Weaver from Ft. Lauderdale. He had six tackles for loss and three sacks while playing in all 12 games for Pitt. He sounds like a guy that could absolutely be helping on this Miami defense, but that is the way recruiting goes sometimes. Weaver is now a pillar of the Panthers defense.
Now, I don’t believe that Miami will have a hard time running the ball against Pitt in 2018. It is easy to see that game as an outlier compared to what Miami has proven to be capable of. Travis Homer will not run for 17 yards again and Malik won’t lead the game in rushing yards with 31. This Miami offense is as experienced and talented as ever before and it is easy to believe that they will handle Pitt in 2018 as they have in 2016 and 2015.
I want to note that I would not be surprised if Pitt vastly improved on their 5-7 season from a year ago to win maybe seven or eight, but expectations for Miami are as high as they have ever been. They know what can happen when they come into a game expecting to win because they are Miami. They need to come out running the ball well and putting themselves shorter third down situations. Too many times we were stuck in 3rd and 15 and 3rd and 10 situations. That is not winning football.
Once again, Pitt will be the last game of the season. This time I expect Miami to win and finish the regular season with a victory before, hopefully, heading to Charlotte for the ACC Championship.