THE MATCHUP: PITT (4-7) VS MIAMI (10-0)
WHEN: 12:00 P.M. EST
WHERE: HEINZ FIELD, PITTSBURGH, PA
HOW TO WATCH: ABC
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Friday’s matchup against the 2nd ranked Miami Hurricanes will mark the end of Pitt’s 2017 football season, regardless of the outcome. In what has been a disappointing year for many Panther fans, a victory over the Hurricanes would certainly make the season more palatable, and create momentum heading into the offseason. But Miami enters Friday fielding a 15-game win-streak, the longest in the FBS, and might present the toughest opponent the 4-win Panthers have seen all season.
In just his second year as Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt has returned “The U” to the elite of college football. With a perfect 10-0 record (their game at Arkansas State was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma), the Hurricanes have clinched the ACC Coastal Division and remain a legitimate contender for a berth in the College Football Playoff. They own victories over the likes of Florida State and Virginia Tech, and they absolutely dismantled the previously 3rd ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish two weeks ago, 41-8.
Much of the credit for Miami’s ascension towards the top of the polls is owed to their defense. With their newly famous turnover chain and a restored swagger befitting of “The U,” Miami’s defense is beginning to resemble its dominant units from the early 2000’s. Although the Hurricanes allow 361.1 yards-per-game (40th), their 17.7 points-per-game ranks 15th in the FBS, and they make the kind of plays that win games; Miami is first in sacks-per-game (3.8), tied for 2nd in interceptions (17), tied for 3rd in forced turnovers (27) and 4th in team tackles-for-loss (9.0). They have also held quarterbacks to a passing efficiency of 107.3, ranking 7th in the FBS.
The Canes feature playmakers throughout their entire defense, starting up front. Their line is highlighted by three defensive ends: Joe Jackson, Chad Thomas and Trent Harris. Together, the three have combined for 100 tackles, 29.5 tackles-for-loss, 17 sacks and 1 forced fumble. Also, defensive tackle R.J. McIntosh disrupts plays from the middle, registering 7.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks on the season.
Last year’s trio of promising freshman linebackers is now a group of seasoned sophomores. In just their second years, Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud are all doing their part to restore Miami’s candidacy for the title of “Linebacker U.” As a group, they have totaled 141 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss, 7.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
Miami’s turnover-seeking secondary is highlighted by rover safety Jaquan Johnson and cornerback Michael Jackson. With 4 interceptions apiece, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 forced fumble, Johnson and Jackson have worn the turnover chain a total of 9 times. Johnson also leads the team in total tackles with 75, demonstrating the ability to consistently track down ball carriers on top of forcing turnovers.
The Hurricanes haven’t received quite as much recognition on offense this season as on defense, likely because players who score a touchdown don’t wear an attention-grabbing gold chain. However, they rank 35th in total offense (442.0 yards-per-game), 34th in scoring offense (33.7 points-per-game), and present an overall dangerous attack with terrific team speed. The Hurricanes do rank 112th in time of possession, though, which could present one matchup that bodes well for Pitt; the Panthers rank 20th in time of possession.
At quarterback, Malik Rosier has taken over behind center following the graduation of four-year starter, Brad Kaaya. Rosier, who balanced football and baseball at Miami prior to Richt’s arrival, is a dual-threat quarterback capable of moving the chains in multiple ways. Through the air, he has completed 184-of-326 passes for 2,620 yards, 23 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. His 14.24 yards-per-completion is tied for 12th in the FBS, showing that he is more than a dink-and-dunk passer. And on the ground, he holds 100 carries for 377 and 5 touchdowns.
Rosier’s top receiving targets this season have been Braxton Berrios and Christopher Herndon. Berrios, a 5-foot-9-inch senior slot receiver who has stepped up while Ahmmon Richards works through injuries, has 41 receptions for 522 yards and 8 touchdowns (all team-leads). Herndon, a semi-finalist for the John Mackey Award, is the most recent Hurricane tight end to earn national recognition. With 37 receptions for 436 yards and 4 touchdowns, the senior could become yet another Miami tight end to find his way into the NFL.
Also, Jeff Thomas, the star of the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game, is showing why almost every top program in college football recruited his services. With a 78-yard touchdown reception already on his rèsumè, the true freshman is proving that his big play ability translates well to the college game.
At running back, Miami featured one of the most explosive ball carriers in college football entering the season, Mark Walton. However, Walton was forced to undergo season-ending ankle surgery following the Canes’ victory over Florida State, making way for sophomore Travis Homer to assume the role of primary back. Averaging 6.5 yards-per-carry with a long of 64 yards, Homer possesses some explosion himself. Overall, he has 130 carries for 849 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Lastly, kicker Michael Badgely returns after earning third-team All-ACC honors in 2016. Badgely, the program’s all-time leader in field goals made, has been named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award after converting 15-of-18 field goals on the year.
|Points Per Game||23.9||27.7||33.7||17.7|
|Yards Gained Rushing||1957||1898||1959||1908|
|Yards Lost Rushing||327||234||192||384|
|Average Yards Per Rush||3.9||4.3||5.3||3.7|
|Average Yards Per Game||148.2||151.3||176.7||152.4|
|Average Yards Per Game||219.9||260.3||265.3||211.7|
|Average Yards Per Play||5.4||6.1||6.6||4.8|
|Average Yards Per Game||368.1||411.5||442.0||364.1|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||29-532||24-616||23-498||34-797|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||20-318||19-232||12-188||5-19|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||9-84||8-73||17-228||9-91|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||18.3||25.7||21.7||23.4|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||15.9||12.2||15.7||3.8|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||9.3||9.1||13.4||10.1|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||10-6||9-6||7-2||15-10|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||41-404||51-409||55-554||64-558|
|Average Per Game||36.7||37.2||55.4||55.8|
|PUNTS – YARDS||54-2381||51-2148||53-2008||56-2240|
|Net Yards Per Punt||38.3||35.9||39.6||40.3|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||32:06||27:54||27:31||32:29|
|4th Down Percentage||63%||47%||67%||40%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||19-129||30-218||38-227||18-106|
On the injury front, the following players are out for Miami: running back Mark Walton, wide receivers Dionte Mullins and Evidence Njoku, defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson and linebacker Charles Perry. All other players appear ready to go.
Like Miami, no one is listed as “probable” or “doubtful” for Pitt, but the following players have been ruled out: Nathan Bossory, Keyshon Camp, George Aston, Matt Flanagan, Malik Henderson and Quintin Wirginis.
HOW/WHERE TO WATCH
Pitt versus Miami kicks off at 12:00 on Saturday at Heinz Field. The game will be aired on ABC and can be heard on 93.7 the Fan. As always, Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.