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Pitt faces enigmatic Miami team on Saturday

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After another win this weekend, Pitt hopes to keep things going against Miami on Saturday.

The Panthers’ victory over Syracuse this past weekend gave the team its fourth straight win after a 1-2 start. Pitt (5-2) remains in the Coastal Division hunt, in second place only behind Virginia (due to the Cavaliers holding a tiebreaker).

If you’ve been watching Miami this year, they’ve been incredibly difficult to figure out. The Hurricanes have had some highs in upsetting Virginia, nearly upsetting a top ten Florida team, and winning an absolute beatdown over a quality FCS Bethune-Cookman team, 63-0. But those have been balanced out with close losses against North Carolina and Virginia Tech, narrowly defeating Central Michigan, and then being absolutely stunned by last-place Georgia Tech this weekend.

That the Hurricanes are 3-4 on the season is a bit of a surprise. An even bigger surprise, though, is probably the inconsistency.

Defensively, Miami has been pretty good. They’ve only given up 30 points one time this year (a 42-35 loss to Virginia Tech). The Hurricanes have had some really stellar efforts on that side of the ball, with the Bethune-Cookman shutout, keeping Central Michigan to 12, and, most impressively, holding Virginia to only nine points.

Miami has been less consistent on offense. They’ve been held to 21 points or less in four of those games and have only topped 25 points twice —and one of those was against non-FBS Bethune-Cookman. They are scoring some points but not nearly enough of them.

Much of that has been because of a poor offensive line and an up and down running game. The Hurricanes have had rushers top the 100-yard mark three times but on three occasions, the top back has had under 70 yards.

That has put even more pressure on the quarterback position and the Hurricanes haven’t gotten great play there, either. The last two games have been pretty subpar for quarterback N’Kosi Perry as he’s dipped below 200 yards in each contest.

Perry has had only one interception this year after replacing starter Jarren Williams midway through the season. But he’s also been sacked 11 times in the past three weeks and the Panthers’ strong defensive line against the weak Miami offensive line could be the perfect storm for a disaster. Pitt will be a trendy pick to lose this game but if the Panthers win this one, I expect that matchup will be the difference.

Whether or not Perry is even the guaranteed starter is probably still up for debate a wee bit. He replaced Williams after the latter had three picks against Virginia Tech and, while Perry played well against the Hokies, he has struggled in these last two games. I expect we’ll see Perry but if he struggles, I’m not sure playing Williams will be out of the question.

Special teams have also been an absolute disaster for Miami. Kicker Bubba Baxa is only 5-10 on field goals this year, including missing three within 30 yards and an extra point. The Hurricanes have tried another kicker in Turner Davidson, but he’s only 1-3 and has missed kicks inside of 30 yards and 40 yards. Every kick for Miami can be an adventure. It’s that kicking that helped cost Miami a win this weekend against Georgia Tech as they had a 25-yard attempt blocked at the end of regulation before they fell in overtime.

The reason this game is so intriguing, though, is because of how good the Hurricanes have looked at times this year. Will Pitt see the Miami team that upset Virginia and the one that nearly beat Florida or will they see the one that lost to Georgia Tech this past weekend?

Time will tell.

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