Pitt a stiff test for Miami
Things could get exciting this week in what has been a dismal Miami Hurricanes season.
The Canes X-Factor is quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, who has missed all or most of the past 5 games because of an injury to his throwing shoulder.
Miami has gone 2-3 during that span, with 1 of those victories a virtuoso defensive performance and a no-show on offense that otherwise is known as Canes 14, Virginia 12 in 4 overtimes.
Canes coach Mario Cristobal is not making his plans public. However, there are rumors Van Dyke could return for Miami (5-6, 3-4) on Saturday night against visiting Pittsburgh (7-4, 4-3) in an ACC game that will serve as both teams’ regular-season finale.
If Van Dyke returns, Miami figures to have a better chance of getting the 6th victory it needs to become bowl eligible. As it is, Pitt is a 6.5-point road favorite.
The rumor is Van Dyke wants to play to get Miami that key win but also to prove to NFL scouts he is healthy, which would improve his draft stock for 2023.
But if Van Dyke can’t go, Miami again will turn, in all likelihood, to freshman Jacurri Brown, whose throwing issues have been well chronicled in this space.
With that said, here are your 5 takeaways:
1. The heat is on
Even at night, the temperature at Hard Rock Stadium is forecast to be north of 80 degrees Saturday.
Because of that heat – and also the humidity – Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi will have his team practice indoors this week.
“We’ll turn it up to 70 degrees,” Narduzzi said.
2. Stop the run
Pitt is powered by running back Israel Abanikanda, who leads the ACC in rushing yards (1,320) and points (116). He has run for 18 touchdowns and a 5.9 average. His rushing yards rank 11th in the nation, and he broke legend Tony Dorsett’s 47-year-old, single-game Pitt rushing record by gaining 320 yards against Virginia Tech on Oct. 8.
Some of the better running backs Miami has faced this season include Texas A&M’s Devon Achane, North Carolina’s Caleb Hood, Florida State’s Trey Benson and Clemson’s Will Shipley.
Achane produced 130 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage on 24 touches (5.9 average). He also had a 36-yard kickoff return and 184 all-purpose yards.
Hood had 124 yards from scrimmage on 18 touches (6.9 average).
Benson had 153 scrimmage yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 touches (9.6 average).
Shipley had 75 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on 21 touches (3.8 average).
Miami lost all 4 of those games.
3. Force the pass
It’s a large task, but if Miami can keep Abanikanda bottled up, the Canes can use their deep defensive line to get after Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis, who has been mediocre.
Slovis, a Southern Cal transfer, is completing 57.8% of his passes this year to go with 7 touchdown passes and 8 interceptions.
Pitt’s Jared Wayne is the wide receiver to watch. He ranks 5th in the ACC with 807 receiving yards.
4. Canes jinx
From the Pitt perspective, the Panthers must be frustrated, trailing the annual series with Miami 29-11-1, including a current streak of 4 straight losses.
This should be a great chance for the Panthers to end the streak, given the 2022 Canes have yet to beat a team with a winning record.
Pitt, meanwhile, will enter the weekend on a 3-game win streak. Those victories were over then-No. 20 Syracuse, Virginia and Duke.
The Panthers are 1-12 in their previous 13 games at Miami. However, the Canes have been a bad home team this season, losing 4 straight, starting with a late September defeat to Middle Tennessee State.
5. Dominant defense
Miami will have to stop Pitt defensive tackle Calijah Kancey, who is tied for 2nd in the ACC with 7.5 sacks. Kancey also leads the conference in tackles for losses (14.5).
Pitt middle linebacker SirVocea Dennis is another player to keep out of the Miami backfield. He is tied for 11th with 10.5 tackles for losses. He had 14 tackles in last week’s win against Duke.
Both Kancey and Dennis likely will be named 1st-team All-ACC for a 2nd straight season.
Also against Duke, Pitt safety Brandon Hill returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Dennis, who calls Pitt’s defensive signals, leads the team with 88 total tackles. Hill is second with 64.
As a whole, Pitt is ranked 16th in the nation in yards allowed per game at almost 314. During its current 3-game win streak, Pitt is allowing just 214 yards per game.
The Panthers also rank 3rd nationally with 39 sacks.
Pitt also has scored 5 defensive touchdowns this year, including the 1 by Hill and 2 after interceptions by cornerback Marlin Devonshire.