Pitt will play Miami for the 39th time on Saturday, and for the first time in a long time, Pitt will be favored to win. Pitt has only beaten Miami 11 times in the previous 38 tries, and Pitt has only beaten Miami six times at home.
But this year is different. The Panthers are bringing an aggressive and talented defense to the party, one that leads the country in sacks. Miami, on the other hand, is bringing one of the worst offensive lines in the country.
Just how bad is Miami’s offensive line? Lets just say they are in the top 4%…in the wrong way. They rank 125th (out of 130) in TFL allowed. They rank 127th in sacks allowed. They rank 128th in sack rate. They are so bad in fact, that two former Miami offensive linemen got together on a podcast to talk about just how bad they are. Go ahead and give a listen by clicking on this link. This, people, is how you complain about an offensive line. I’m setting the sacks over-under at 10.
So yes, we can expect Miami’s o-line to be a turnstile. And that is not a good thing for the Cane’s top two quarterbacks, because both of them have. shoulder issues.
In addition to that Miami’s top running back is likely to be sidelined and their #2 wide receiver is serving out a suspension.
Like I said, this year is different.
The ‘Canes do have one of the nation’s best receiving tight ends at their disposal however. 6’3″ Sophomore Brevin Jordan has posted 28 catches on the season for 438 yards. That’s 15.6 YPC. Can you imagine what Mark Whipple would do with such a talent? We Pitt fans can only dream…
Miami also has a pretty good backup running back. Cam’Ron Harris ran for 138 yards on 18 carries vs. Georgia tech. That’s 7.6 YPC folks. Pitt needs to continue to focus on stopping the run.
When Miami’s injured QB’s have had time to throw they haven’t been bad. Together Jarren Williams and N’Kosi Perry have combined for over 1900 yards and 15 touchdowns, with a passer rating of 151.
But despite the nice passing numbers, Miami’s weakness plays right into Pitt’s strength. As long as Pitt’s front seven shows up to play on Saturday, it’s going to be along day for Williams and Perry. If things get really ugly, its conceivable that the ‘Canes may have to go to their third string option, Ohio State transfer Tate Martell. We Pitt fans can only dream…
On the other side of the ball, Miami’s defense is pretty talented. If they decide to play with discipline, it could be just as long of a day for Kenny Pickett as it is for Williams and Perry.
Senior Linebacker Shaq Quarterman leads the unit with 51 tackles. He gave Pitt fits last season and I’d expect him to be all over the field again on Saturday.
Pitt catches a bit of a break at outside linebacker. Starter Michael Pickney (38 tackles, 3 sacks) is listed as doubtful and won’t start. Former four-star recruit Zach McCloud starts in Pickney’s place. He’s got three tackles on the season, but registered 44 last year in limited action. Feels like an area that Mark Whipple may want to try to exploit, if only because McCloud could be prone to mistakes.
The biggest area of concern for Pitt is not at linebacker though. It’s the defensive line. The Cane’s Redshirt freshman DE Gregory Rosseau has 5 sacks on the season. Senior DE Trevon Hill has come on lately, notching three sacks in his last four games. Pitt is going to need to rely on short drops or get their offensive tackles some help on Saturday if they want to move the ball through the air.
Pitt’s line is also going to have to figure out how to pick up the blitz. DB Trajan Bandy has three sacks. DB Gurvan Hall has two.
Miami’s total passing defense is not all that bad, possibly because they are pretty good at generating pressure. They’re giving up 201 YPG. Games against Georgia Tech (138 yards passing), Central Michigan (217 yards passing) and Bethune-Cookman (67 yards passing) have helped though. Against legitimate Power 5 passing teams, Miami’s defense has given up 260 yards per game. Assuming Pitt can provide some semblance of pass protection, then I think we should expect to see a similar output from Pitt.
Miami’s rushing defense is stout, giving up just 96 YPG. In seven games only two teams have gone for more than 100 yards against the ‘Canes. Georgia Tech ran for 207 last week. Virginia Tech ran for 150+ just a few weeks prior. Tech and Tech are 64th and 57th in rushing respectively. Pitt on the other hand is 109th, so under 100 yards rushing is probably a pretty safe bet.
On the special teams front, Pitt’s kicking game is trending up. Alex Kessman is a perfect four-for-four after switching to his blue suede shoes for the Duke Game.
Miami’s kicking game is trending in the opposite direction. Miami’s two kickers Turner Davidson and Bubba Baxa were a combined 0-3 last week against Georgia Tech (although one of the three was blocked).
There is also the weather to consider. There’s a 45% chance of rain at noon on Saturday, with mid-50 degree temperatures (just cold enough to make those Miami boys uncomfortable). You’d like to think that gives Pitt the advantage.
With all that said, this is a game that Pitt should win. They’re 5.5 point favorites. ESPN’s notoriously anti-Pitt FPI gives Pitt a slightly better than 50% chance. The Miami program is reeling. But alas this is Pitt, and while our beloved Panthers have shown signs of turning the “Same Old Pitt” corner, we Pitt fans need to continue to brace ourselves for a letdown. Dare we hope to live up to expectations and play ourselves into the top 25? I say dare at your own risk, but hold out hope that this year is indeed different.
Hail to Pitt