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PREVIEW: Miami hits the road to face Pitt at high noon

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It’s a showdown fit for...the ACC Coastal

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As the Miami Hurricanes continue the 2021 season, they hit the road to face a traditional foe from both the Big East and ACC days: the 17th ranked Pittsburgh Panthers.

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Overall

Miami comes into this game struggling to a 3-4 (1-2 ACC) record on the year. With several key season ending injuries — most notably QB D’Eriq King, RB Donald Chaney Jr., and S Bubba Bolden — Miami is now looking to leverage younger players on the roster to finally start winning games.

On the other hand, outside of a random slip up to a directional school — Western Michigan — Pitt has been the class of the ACC. At 6-1 (3-0 ACC), the Panthers are looking to take a step forward toward the Coastal Division Championship with a win over the rival Canes.

When Pitt is on Offense

Unlike Pitt teams of the past, the Panthers are employing a bit of tempo on offense. HC Pat Narduzzi is known for his defenses (more on that later) and would usually try to grind out close wins. But with a veteran QB, and trying to finally update his process, Narduzzi decided to finally allow the offense to open up and attack more, and that’s been a big plus for his team this season.

For the 43rd year in a row, Pitt is led by QB Kenny Pickett. The senior first made waves in 2017 when, in his first career start, he led Pitt to an upset victory over the previously undefeated Hurricanes the day after Thanksgiving, ruining Miami’s season.

A plucky upstart who basically just ran around a lot then, Pickett has turned into a very high level operator at the QB position. Pickett is completing 68.9% of his passes for 2,236 yards, an average of 319.4 yards per game. The big storyline here, however, is Pickett’s incredible 23-1 TD-INT ratio to this point of the season. His 176.12 QB rating is 6th in the country.

In short, Pittsburgh’s QB has been ballin’ this year.

While Pickett is the headliner on offense, he’s not the only good thing Pitt has going. The Panthers balance out their potent passing attack with 171 yards rushing per game, a testament to the foundation of the program Narduzzi wants to run. SO Israel Abanikanda is the leading rusher, and JR Vincent Davis is a steady contributor as well.

For the receivers that Pickett connects with in the passing game, the conversation starts and ends with SO Jordan Addison. With 39 catches for 670 yards and 10 TDs on the year, Addison is far and away the top target and focal point of the passing game. Taysir Mack, Jared Wayne, and TE Lucas Krull all have 19+ receptions on the year as well, so there’s depth behind Addison. But make no mistake: as Addison goes, so too does Pitt’s passing game.

Armed with a big, physical OL, Pitt has only allowed 11 sacks on the year. And the unit has been adept at protecting their star QB, and opening holes for the running game, as well. With 4 seniors and a junior, Pitt’s OL is a veteran group, and they’re playing like it.

When Pitt is on Defense

Here is where things are the same, and you know what Pitt is going to do: play physical man defense, load the box against the run, and force you to complete passes over the top of the defense. They believe in their DBs to not allow that to happen. And, for the most part, they’ve been right about that.

This is the same gameplan that Pitt has employed against Miami ever since Narduzzi took over, and it’s the one that got Miami beat in 2017 because their QB couldn’t throw the ball. This year, the Panthers will look to test Miami freshman QB Tyler Van Dyke to see if he is able to complete the passes down the field that Miami will need to win this tough road game.

Pitt has been great at DL development in recent years, and that’s still the case this year. Led by DT’s Keyshon Camp and Calijah Kancey — a former Miami commit and a Miami native, respectively — the Pitt DL has wreaked havoc in opposing backfields all year long. DB Brandon Hill and LB SirVocea Davis are the leading tacklers, but they’re only 2 of a great many players Pittsburgh looks to to make plays on the defensive side of the ball.

Outlook

This is going to be a tall task for this year’s Canes to accomplish. But, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that an upset could occur. With that being said, however, Pittsburgh is arguably the best team in the ACC this season, and Miami is hoping to maybe end up in a bowl game (any bowl game) at the end of the year.

I’d love to be as confident in this team as I was heading into the year, but even with the recent resurgence (a close loss at UNC and a win over then-18th ranked NC State in the last 2 weeks), I think this is a bridge too far for Manny Diaz’s Canes.

Score Prediction: Pitt 38 Miami 27

Go Canes