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Pitt hopes to stay hot vs. Miami in season finale

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

Pitt’s football team has clinched an appearance in the ACC championship game next weekend against Clemson. But the regular season isn’t yet over and the Panthers (7-4) have one more challenge before that contest as they travel to Miami this weekend.

The Hurricanes (6-5) should provide a stiff test. A small piece of good news is that the Hurricanes have already earned a postseason appearance with their sixth win last week with a big 38-14 win over Virginia Tech. That victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Canes after they began the season 5-1. I don’t think you ever want to face a team needing a win in their last contest to reach a bowl game and fortunately, Pitt dodged that bullet thanks to the Hokies laying an egg.

What to expect here is tough to say. Miami didn’t really beat anyone during that 5-1 start before losing to Virginia, Boston College, Duke, and Georgia Tech. They did beat an 8-3 FIU team but, alas, FIU hasn’t beaten anyone, either, and also lost to Indiana. Miami’s string of losses prove that the Hurricanes are certainly down this year but they rebounded last week and looked good in an easy win against the Hokies. Miami is probably best summed up as dangerous rather than very good.

None of that is to suggest Pitt can’t lose this game, obviously. It will be interesting to see how they approach this game and while they will want to win it, a few players could be caught looking ahead to Clemson and concerned about getting out of there healthy. You can bet the narrative won’t be that from the Pitt side but it’s still something you could see. I do personally think Pitt is the better team this year but that hardly means it will equal a win. Even beyond looking ahead, Miami could simply come out and have a better day. They also have the game at home, a strong defense, and no doubt want to finish over .500 this year.

Miami can play well on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they’ve looked explosive at times, scoring 77 against Savannah State and 49 against Toledo before hanging 47 on North Carolina. They’ve fallen off a little bit in that regard as the competition has gotten tougher but can still score points at times. Defensively, is really where they shine. They’ve only allowed 30 points to a team once this year — and that was to what is now a top ten LSU team. Even during that run of ACC losses, the Hurricanes still didn’t give up more than 27 points in any game. The 20.1 points per game they’ve given up this year was 20th in the nation heading into this past weekend.

Against the run, Miami is 33rd, giving up about 135 yards a game. If I were Pitt, I’d expect a similar strategy as employed by Wake Forest where the Hurricanes will heavily play the run and force quarterback Kenny Pickett to make throws. That worked in Pitt’s favor last weekend but forcing Pickett to win the game is probably a better strategy than relying on shutting down the backs. Miami has been better than Wake Forest against the run so they may not need to stack the box quite as much as the Demon Deacons did. But I expect a heavy dose of attention to be paid to shutting down Pitt’s running game.

Offensively, Miami has tried a couple of different quarterbacks this year in senior Malik Rosier and freshman N’Kosi Perry. Neither has been all that effective and Perry seems like the guy right now. Like Pickett, he won’t typically go out and throw for a ton of yards. In the team’s 38-14 win over Virginia Tech this past weekend, he threw for only 174 yards and his high was only 224 this season against FIU. The ground attack has been better and they’re led by junior Travis Homer (801 yards). But 49th on the ground and 100th through the air, Miami really excels in neither.

What Pitt has to be concerned about is taking care of the football. Miami and the dreaded turnover chain are back and the Hurricanes have 23 takeaways on the year, including three this past weekend against Virginia Tech. They were 16th in the nation in that category coming into that game and will likely be higher when the stats are updated this week. They haven’t been great offensively lately but are a dangerous team because of the emphasis on getting turnovers.

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