Miami nearly blew it last Saturday, showing signs of a letdown against Virginia after the highs of back-to-back triumphs over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, but the Hurricanes pulled it together with 30 unanswered points in the second half to defeat the Cavaliers 44-28 and run their winning streak to 15 in a row. Now the No. 2 Hurricanes head on the road for the first time in nearly a month for Friday’s game against ACC rival Pittsburgh, which comes off a 20-14 loss to Virginia Tech.
Miami dodged a bullet against Virginia to remain in the national title hunt, but the ACC Coastal Division champs are hardly out of the woods as they have shown a propensity to play down to the competition, often needing late heroics to pull out victories. And this time, the Hurricanes won’t have the luxury of playing at home plus they have the additional challenges of cold weather, a short week and some exhaustion due to playing their 10th straight weekend thanks to schedule changes prompted by Hurricane Irma. “A lesson was definitely learned,” said Hurricanes linebacker Shaquille Quarterman after the hard-fought win over Virginia. “Not that we were, but we can’t become complacent at all in any matter. Going into this short week, we’re just planning to prepare better and better each week.” They will have to as Pat Narduzzi’s 4-7 Panthers have nothing left to play for except pride after coming up one yard short of victory last Saturday -- Kenny Pickett hooked up with Jester Weah on a 74-yard pass to the Virginia Tech 1 but Pitt couldn’t punch it in on four attempts.
TV: Noon. ET, ABC. LINE: Miami -13.5
ABOUT MIAMI (10-0, 7-0 ACC): Manny Diaz’s hungry defense didn’t show the same urgency last week as it had in the big victories over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, but the unit roared back from an uninspired first half in which Virginia almost moved the ball at will thanks to precision passing from quarterback Kurt Benkert to carrying the team after intermission and slamming the door on Benkert and company. The turnover chain came out three times for the game, giving Miami 19 takeaways in the last five contests, and defensive back Jaquan Johnson came up with perhaps the biggest, momentum-changing play of the game with his 30-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter that tied the score for the second time. The offense was up and down against Virginia, with both the running and passing games struggling to get things going, but the defense made the plays to set the offense up with short field position and quarterback Malik Rosier took advantage, especially in the red zone, and he ended up tying a career high with three touchdown passes and he ran for another score.
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (4-7, 2-5): Running back Darrin Hall was completely shut down by Virginia Tech on Saturday, with the Panthers’ workhorse coming up short on three of the four attempts from the 1-yard line in the final seconds and finishing the day with a mere 4 yards on 15 carries, but in each of the three games before that outing, Hall eclipsed the 100-yard mark, including a 254-yard day against Duke. Hall did have a career day catching the ball (five receptions for 63 yards) but the question is who will be throwing it this week after Narducci pulled starter Ben DiNucci (4-for-8, 54 yards, one touchdown, one interception) last week and replaced him with freshman Pickett (15-for-23, 242 yards, one INT), who put the team in position for the win with the 74-yard pass play. Either way, the Panthers offense will have to guard against mistakes vs. an opportunistic Miami defense ready to take full advantage and a huge key will be the blocking up front as Miami leads the nation in sacks per game (3.8) -- Pittsburgh QBs have been sacked 30 times this year -- and ranks fourth in tackles for loss (9.0 per game).
1 The Hurricanes lead the all-time series with the Panthers, 25-10-1, with Miami winning the last two meetings.
2. Miami is ranked first nationwide in turnover margin (plus-1.6 per game).
3. The No. 2 Hurricanes are the highest-ranked team Pitt has hosted at Heinz Field in 16 years (that opponent was also Miami, which was ranked No. 1 when the teams met on Sept. 27, 2001).
PREDICTION: Miami 40, Pittsburgh 21