The Pitt Panthers are coming off an impressive 45-34 win over the Louisville Cardinals to push their record to 8-3 (6-1 ACC) and now prepare to finish their regular season when they host the Miami Hurricanes this Friday for a noon kickoff. With a win, the Panthers have an opportunity to reach nine regular season wins for the first time since 2009 and set themselves up for a high-profile bowl bid.
Miami comes in with a 7-4 record and have won three of four since firing Al Golden a month ago.
Let’s take a look at the matchup.
When: Friday, November 27
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Time: Noon, EST
Watch: ESPN 2
Spread: Pitt (-6)
Series History: Miami leads 23-10-1 (11-5 at Pitt)
Keys for Pitt (8-3, 6-1 ACC)
1. Keep Kaaya at bay- Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya is one of the best QB’s in the ACC and is capable of taking over games with his arm. Couple that with the fact that the Panthers defense has struggled at times to stop the pass and this might be one of the biggest keys to Pitt getting a win. Kaaya has thrown for 2,758 yards, 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season while surpassing the 300-yard mark last week in a win over Georgia Tech.
Limit Kaaya’s effectiveness, and Pitt will be in position to get their seventh conference win of the season.
2. Set Boyd loose- In what might be Tyler Boyd’s last game at Heinz Field as a Pitt Panther, Friday’s finale against the Hurricanes might be a chance for one of the best WR’s in college football to go out with a bang in front of the home crowd. Miami has struggled defensively, giving up just less than 30 points a game and surrendered 59 points to North Carolina two weeks ago in a blowout loss.
This is a prime opportunity for Boyd to go off, and if Boyd can catch 12 or more passes (he had 11 last week) he can match or surpass Panthers legend Larry Fitzgerald for the most catches in a season with 92 in 2003. Boyd can also tie Fitzgerald for the most 100-yard receiving games with 14 if he breaks the century mark Friday.
3. Start fast- A noon kickoff the day after Thanksgiving is a challenge. Couple the fact it’s a short week for both teams and the risk for sluggish, sloppy starts is a real possibility. The Panthers have the definitive advantage of playing the game at home, and though they have had some issues getting off to fast starts, doing it against the Hurricanes could be huge.
Let’s face it, despite of improved play in recent weeks, Miami might struggle to find motivation under these circumstances, and if the Panthers can get an early lead, it might take a lot of the fight out a team that might be looking for a break after what is invariably a long week to end a long regular season.
Keys for Miami (7-4, 4-3 ACC)
1. Power trio needs to light it up- The wide receiving trio of Stacy Coley, Herb Waters and Rashawn Scott all have surpassed 500 yards for the season, making Miami the only ACC team to have three seperate players eclipse that total.
Coley, a freshman All-American in 2013, is the most dangerous of the group and might be able to take advantage of the Panthers struggles stopping the big play in the passing game. Finally healed from a hamstring injury that dogged Coley earlier this season, the talented junior has touchdown grabs in his last two games.
Expect Miami to try and beat the Panthers secondary early and often through the air, with the trio of Coley, Waters and Scott garnering many of Kaaya’s pass attempts.
2. Stop Ollison- Panthers running back Qadree Ollison became the fifth freshman in school history to surpass 1,000 yards after his 153-yard performance last week against Louisville. Miami better have taken a hard look at the game film on Ollison and figure out a way to stop him from having similar success on Friday. The Pitt offense utilized Ollison multiple times in play action, setting up Nate Peterman to hit open receivers downfield.
Miami has one of the worst rush defenses in the NCAA, ranking 111th out of 127 FCS teams in total yards allowed and give up 5.3 yards per carry this season. This is a juicy matchup for the Panthers who boast a terrific offensive line. If Miami can’t control the Panthers rushing attack and specifically Ollison, it could be an uphill climb to get a win.
3. Win the turnover game- Miami ranks in the top 10 in turnover margin (+11) in the NCAA and have forced 22 turnovers this season. Winning the turnover battle Friday would go a long way toward helping the Hurricanes pull off the road upset and get them their fifth win of the season against ACC Coastal division opponents.
Prediction- After years of finding ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the Panthers under first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi have seemingly found a way to overcome recent history and win the games that teams in the past would invariably lose. This is one of those type of games, as Miami is living more off of its name than its exploits on the field.
Though the Hurricanes are not a bad team and arguably are more talented than the Panthers, this is a game that should go in favor of the home squad. As long as Pitt plays to its potential, that’s exactly what will happen. Pitt should send their seniors (and Boyd and Conner?) out with its final home win as Panthers. Pitt 40 Miami 23