THE MATCHUP: Pitt (5-3) at Miami (4-4)
WHEN: 12:30 PM EST
WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
HOW TO WATCH: WTAE and the ACC Network
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 The Fan & The Pitt IMG Sports Network
The loss to Virginia Tech last Thursday has many Panther fans anxious for win number six, especially with a trip to Clemson waiting in the on-deck circle. Two years ago, a road trip to play the University of Miami would sound like one of the least promising places to find that victory. However, in 2014 Pitt defeated “The U” in Miami for the first time since 1963, making Saturday’s matchup far less daunting from a historical standpoint. But just because the Panthers broke their long standing losing streak does not mean a win will be easy.
The Hurricanes’ first season under head coach Mark Richt can be separated into two halves: their 4-game winning streak, and their 4-game losing streak. After defeating Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Appalachian State, and Georgia Tech, Miami reached #10 in the AP poll with a perfect 4-0 record. However, the Hurricanes’ dropped their next four contests to Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Notre Dame. For Mark Richt, the tenth winningest active coach in college football, 4-game losing streaks are unfamiliar territory. Today, we preview the Miami Hurricane team that awaits Pitt at Hard Rock Stadium.
Miami’s offense flows through quarterback and potential first-round draft pick, Brad Kaaya. Entering the season, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projected Kaaya as the potential second-overall selection in the 2017 NFL draft. The junior remains an intriguing first round prospect, although his 2016 statistics have not quite met the expectations of a second-overall selection. Kaaya has completed 147 of 238 passes for 1,984 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions this season. However, Miami’s offensive line has struggled in pass protection, allowing 2.5 sacks-per-game (tied for 91st in the FBS). In the Hurricanes’ last two games alone, opposing teams have sacked Kaaya 13 times, and the effects of this punishment show. Per Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald, Kaaya was seen “windmilling his right arm in apparent discomfort on the sideline” last week against Notre Dame. His throwing shoulder seemingly continues to bother him following a hit sustained weeks ago against Florida State.
Kaaya will utilize a receiving corps highlighted by senior Stacy Coley when facing a struggling Panther secondary. Coley, a 2015 second team All-ACC honoree, holds 36 receptions for 433 yards and 6 touchdowns. Pairing with Coley is impact true freshman Ahmmon Richards, a receiver capable of hurdling over defenders in the open field. The 4-star recruit has registered 23 receptions for 488 yards and 1 touchdown in his young but promising career. Also, as has been the case in recent years, Miami features talented tight ends capable of impacting the passing game: David Njoku, a 6’4” 245-pound redshirt sophomore, has 21 receptions for 346 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season; Christopher Herndon IV, a 6’4” 253 junior, has 19 receptions for 270 yards and 2 touchdowns.
At running back, Miami disperses a majority of their carries between sophomore Mark Walton and junior Joseph Yearby. After three straight 100-yard performances to begin the season, Walton has failed to reach the century mark since. Still, his 649 yards and 9 touchdowns on 130 carries closely resemble the season totals of Pitt’s leading rusher, James Conner (143 carries, 672 yards, and 10 touchdowns). Yearby, a 2015 third team All-ACC performer, adds 79 carries for 494 yards and 6 touchdowns to Walton’s total. Overall, Miami averages 148.9 yards-per-game on the ground, ranking 95th in the nation. The yards lost on each sack obviously affect this total, detracting from the net yardage gained by Walton and Yearby. After a loss to Notre Dame that saw the Hurricanes gain 18 yards rushing (yards lost on sacks included), college football analyst and former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt stated that Miami must commit to the run, even when the team is struggling. This will be a difficult week for the Hurricanes to heed such advice, considering that the Panthers’ defense ranks sixth in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game.
On defense, Miami features only four players with over 10 career starts. Despite their inexperience, they remain talented and have performed quite well. The Canes are tied for 16th nationally in scoring defense (18.9 points-per-game), and 28th nationally in total defense (354.1 yards allowed-per-game). They also rank second overall in tackles-for-loss with 9.4 per game. All of this is even more impressive considering the Canes lost their three top tacklers from 2015 right before the season began. Linebackers Jermaine Grace and Juwon Young, and defensive end Al Quadin Muhammed violated NCAA rules by receiving improper use of a luxury rental vehicle. Grace and Muhammed were dismissed from the team, while Young transferred to Marshall after receiving an indefinite suspension.
Up front, Miami’s defensive line is comprised of three first year starters. Defensive end Chad Thomas has 24 tackles, 8 tackles-for-loss, and 3.5 sacks, while sophomore defensive tackles RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton have combined for 60 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, and 2.5 sacks. The Hurricanes were actually starting four first year starters until Demetrius Jackson’s sustained a knee injury against North Carolina. Aiding Miami’s starters is true freshman defensive end Joe Jackson. Jackson may feature primarily as a rotational defensive end, but the 6’5” 250-pounder leads the Canes in sacks with 4.5.
Behind the front four roam three true freshman linebackers, including Shaquille Quarterman, the nation’s fourth ranked inside linebacker in 2016. Quarterman leads the Hurricanes in tackles with 51, and is second in tackles-for-loss with 7.5. Fellow linebacker Michael Pinckney is also in the midst of a special debut season with 38 tackles, 6 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, and 1 interception.
Miami’s secondary is their most experienced defensive unit. Corn Elder, a senior cornerback, has 47 tackles, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks, 1 interception, and 8 pass breakups. Rayshawn Jenkins, a senior safety, adds 46 tackles, 2.0 tackles-for-loss, 0.5 sacks, and 1 interception. Due to an injury to starting senior cornerback Adrian Colbert, the secondary will feature one first year starter. Sophomore Sheldrick Redwine is likely to fill in for Colbert, just as he did earlier this season when Colbert missed time with a knee injury.
The Hurricanes also demonstrate an impressive ability on special teams: they are very successful at preventing punts and field goals from crossing the line of scrimmage. Miami currently leads the nation in both blocked punts (3) and blocked kicks (5). Considering the proven success of Panther return man Quadree Henderson, special teams could be an area of excitement tomorrow afternoon.
Below is this week’s statistical comparison:
|Points Per Game||38.1||32.4||32.9||18.9|
|Points Off Turnovers||48||23||56||24|
|Yards Gained Rushing||2026||1114||1387||1517|
|Yards Lost Rushing||172||288||196||327|
|Average Yards Per Rush||5.1||3.2||4.6||3.5|
|Average Yards Per Game||231.8||103.2||148.9||148.8|
|Average Yards Per Pass||8.3||8.6||8.3||6.3|
|Average Yards Per Catch||13.4||14.5||13.5||10.5|
|Average Yards Per Game||191.2||312.2||252.0||203.1|
|Average Yards Per Play||6.2||6.1||6.4||4.7|
|Average Yards Per Game||423.0||415.5||400.9||351.9|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||26-748||33-661||10-184||19-387|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||10-113||20-190||15-205||16-111|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||4-92||3-12||6-58||6-80|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||28.8||20.0||18.4||20.4|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||11.3||9.5||13.7||6.9|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||23.0||4.0||9.7||13.3|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||11-5||11-7||4-2||12-4|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||47-413||48-401||58-557||55-453|
|Average Per Game||51.6||50.1||69.6||56.6|
|PUNTS – YARDS||39-1661||40-1650||43-1874||50-2023|
|Average Yards Per Punt||42.6||41.2||43.6||40.5|
|Net Yards Per Punt||36.7||37.9||40.5||34.4|
|KICKOFFS – YARDS||54-3355||50-3120||50-3202||37-2293|
|Average Yards Per Kick||62.1||62.4||64.0||62.0|
|Net Yards Per Kick||40.2||35.9||41.8||40.1|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||33:48||26:12||26:23||33:37|
|4th Down Percentage||75%||67%||44%||31%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||28-230||5-33||24-144||20-141|
|PAT’S MADE / ATTEMPTED||37/38||29/29||32/34||16/16|
|Herndon IV, Christopher||19||270||2||48|
|Carter Sr, Jamal||31||43||0.0||0||0||0||0.0|
Miami will be without starting cornerback Adrian Colbert, starting defensive end Demetrius Jackson, starting right tackle Sunny Odogwu, and defensive lineman Scott Patchan this week. On the other side of the ball, Avonte Maddox, Bam Bradley, and Rori Blair are all questionable for Pitt. Phillipie Motley, Zach Challingsworth, and the players previously lost for the season are out.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 12:30pm. It will be aired locally on WTAE, and can be heard on 93.7 The Fan. PSN’s staff will also provide updates and in-game observations via Twitter.
While a win tomorrow is very important for the Panthers’ season, the sense of urgency for finding a win in Miami must be significant as well. Following the loss to Notre Dame, Mark Richt was asked, “Where do you go from here?” The former Hurricane quarterback wasted little time in providing a quick and clear response.
“Go play Pitt,” Richt answered.
And that is exactly what will happen. But which team will display more resiliency remains to be seen.