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November 26, 2013

Know Your Enemy: The U

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s) — Justin @ 12:52 pm

The U comes to town the day after Thanksgiving hoping to end their season on a high note after a disappointing few weeks. Miami was looking great; they were a top 10 team with BCS aspirations and even after the beat down by FSU they still had a lot to play for. Then they lost to VT and Duke, dropped out of the rankings, and faded into obscurity. However, a victory over Pitt and in a bowl game will give Miami a ten win season that will probably enable them to finish ranked.

Pitt clinched bowl eligibility with a win over Syracuse last week and will go to a bowl for the sixth straight season (which is a miracle given all of the turmoil in that time frame). I don’t want to say a loss is acceptable, but with a bowl game clinched and a highly talented team coming to town, it won’t be a disaster unless it’s an ass-kicking. Let’s look at The U.

Miami’s base offense is 3 WR, 1 TE, and 1 RB. The U took a huge hit when RB Duke Johnson went down for the season. His primary replacement, Dallas Crawford, is definitely a step down. Johnson was averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Since Crawford took over, he has only averaged 4.5 yards.

Thankfully for The U, QB Stephen Morris is continuing to put up impressive numbers. Even in losses against Duke and VT, he put up over 700 yards passing and four touchdowns. Morris is inconsistent (only completing 58.5% of his passes) but he has the arm strength to cover the whole field and isn’t afraid to rip it. Talent is not his issue; decision making is. Morris will make stupid decisions, throw flat-footed, and rely too heavily on athleticism and arm strength to make plays. His slow reactions do bode well if Aaron Donald can…well, let’s face the facts: Aaron Donald will continue to give every opposing offense nightmares.

Morris has no shortage of weapons and he’ll look to senior Allen Hurns early and often. Hurns can go short, medium, and deep; he has receptions of 69, 80, and 87 yards on the season. Opposite of Hurn is talented freshman Stacy Coley. Like Hurns, he’s a big play threat; he averages 18 yards per catch and has numerous 30+ yard receptions. Herb Waters mans the slot and Clive Walford is at TE. Waters is a good red zone receiver and is talented enough to make you pay if you don’t cover him with a CB.

On the OL they’re very experienced; every player but one is a junior or senior. The other player is sophomore Ereck Flowers and he’s receiving some early 2015 draft hype, so talent is not an issue there. They’ve only allowed 1.3 sacks per game (tied for 20th in the nation) and they’re the 39th ranked offense, so the OL is obviously not that bad. There have been some shakeups recently but that appears to have calmed down now that RT Seantrel Henderson has cleaned up his off-field issues. Henderson is one of the most talented OTs in college football, he’s just a bit of a jagoff.

Overall, if Miami executes offensively, they will score on Friday. The ability to score is not the reason why Miami lost to VT and Duke. They put up a total of 54 points and 917 yards in those two games. They did turn the ball over three times, but two of those were on special teams. The key to stopping them will be pressure in Stephen Morris’ face. Don’t be afraid to blitz him, he’s a slow decision maker at times. If he has a clean pocket, it could get ugly.

On defense, Miami has a lot more issues. They allow an average of 25.5 points per game. They allow about 229 yards through the air and 179 yards per game on the ground.  They are forcing about two turnovers per game though.. As usual, the pass rush will cause issues. Miami has forced about 2.3 sacks per game, which means they’ll probably get four or five sacks on Savage.

Their fatal flaw is run defense. Remember how pathetic VT was at running the ball (111th)? VT’s RBs had 142 yards and four touchdowns against Miami. Even UVA, who can’t do anything right lately, had over 200 rushing yards. UVA held a 38:22 time margin advantage as well. Without some stupid turnovers by UVA, that game looks a lot different.

The secondary is quite good at forcing turnovers though. Starting CBs Tracy Howard and Ladarius Gunter have seven interceptions between them and the starting safeties have four. Gunter, however, will be out after a scary injury against UVA, but thankfully he’ll be OK. A starting lineup with eleven picks and a good pass rushing? It seems like they should give up fewer points. The problem is Miami is so bad at run defense that once the running game gets going, they don’t have a counter outside of turnovers. Even worse, they will only be able to dress three scholarship CBs: Howard,  sophomore Antonio Crawford, and redshirt freshman Larry Hope. Depth is an issue here and a healthy Devin Street will go a long way towards taking advantage of this.

The pass rush doesn’t have one dominant player.  Six players have between two and four sacks. Their leading sacker, Tyriq McCord, is mostly a 3rd down pass rusher. I expect to see him lined up across from Juantez Hollins, who’s starting at LT due to the injury to Adam Bisnowaty. At this point, it’s just safe to assume Savage will go down and get hit a lot. Hopefully the sacks don’t continue to be at the worst possible moments.

Unlike the Syracuse game, 17 points won’t be enough. Savage and company will need to put 24+ points on the board to win this game. The key will be clock control. The weather appears to be in Pitt’s favor. It’s going to be cold and Heinz Field is always windy. The offense needs to take advantage of Miami’s poor run defense and force them to start looking for the run, then hit them with playaction and exploit a depleted secondary.

If Miami comes to play, I don’t think Pitt has enough firepower to keep up. I hate projecting things like “let down” performances and I don’t see how Pitt wins unless Miami comes out flat. Miami is more talented at most positions and more experienced. I think Miami will win 31-21.





Again, if Pitt can run the ball, they’ll have a decent chance. Trouble is that even though the run defense appears to be the U’s weakness, it is no guarantee Pitt can run.

Comment by wbb 11.26.13 @ 1:00 pm

Thanks, Justin. A cold and windy day fits with our running the ball down their throats. Plus, some quick passes and an occasional long ball. Meanwhile, Morris has problems with long passes. Ray V and others make some plays. Aaron D is in his face. I see a 34 to 27 Pitt win.
H2P Tame the Canes

Comment by pmdH2P 11.26.13 @ 1:05 pm

“THANKFULLY, QB Stephen Morris is continuing to put up impressive numbers.”

Justin, whose side are you on?

JK

Comment by PittofDreams 11.26.13 @ 1:10 pm

Pitt has a better chance of running the ball with Hollins in at left tackle.

Bisonwaty was struggling a lot, maybe because of his back problems which Chryst now says were already giving him trouble at the start of the season.

My guess is Hollins is probably pretty grateful to be back starting and is committed to putting up a good performance.

Comment by PittofDreams 11.26.13 @ 1:13 pm

Think of it. Pitt 7 and 5 after Friday. BIG WINS against Notre Dame and Miami.

Who would have thunk it?

Comment by PittofDreams 11.26.13 @ 1:16 pm

Biznowaty is being shut down for the year including bowl game. Price probably out but everyone else is a maybe.

Comment by wbb 11.26.13 @ 1:16 pm

PoD: just changed that haha.

Comment by Justin 11.26.13 @ 1:22 pm

Not to mention a “HEISMAN WORTHY” performance by Aaron Donald.

No stretch here.

By the way… Here’s a re-post of a NBCSports column that provides a REALITY CHECK for anyone who doesn’t think Aaron Donald is deserving of serious consideration for the Heisman.

link to collegefootballtalk.nbcsports.com

Comment by PittofDreams 11.26.13 @ 1:27 pm

It’s hard to argue that Miami shouldn’t win this game based on everything you mention, but Miami isn’t playing for much really, and Pitt is. It’s senior day, we want to guarantee an ACC bowl, and it’s a nationally televised ABC game. I would be surprised if the game isn’t about as close as Vegas is predicting.

The question is whether we can win the time of possesion game by succesfully moving the ball on the ground, keep the score in the mid-20’s, and win the turnover battle. If we don’t get a few interceptions or fumbles (see: coldweather) then this one’s probably out of reach.

But man 7-5 is a lot better than 6-6 and by god, Donald, Street, and all the other seniors that stuck it out deserve to go out a winner on Senior Day.

Comment by PittHW 11.26.13 @ 2:04 pm

@PoD – thanks. Great write-up on AD. Well deserved.

Comment by Pitt Dad 11.26.13 @ 2:09 pm

Pitt needs to stop giving up on the run so quickly. I think that has been an issue all year with the play calling. Pound the damn ball.

Comment by notrocketscience 11.26.13 @ 2:16 pm

Pitt’s giving up on the run because it doesn’t work. Going three and out every time we get the ball won’t do anything to help us win. We don’t run the ball because our RBs are that great and our line is worse.

Comment by PittHW 11.26.13 @ 2:26 pm

RBs *aren’t* that great.

Comment by PittHW 11.26.13 @ 2:26 pm

OK PittofDreams, you didn’t answer me yesterday when I asked you to send me whatever primo stuff you been smoking. Now today, it appears to me that you’ve decided to step up your Pitt addiction and have started mainlining the Koolaid!

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the cold hard facts are that Miami has owned us historically and that we hardly ever make a game of it against them. They usually expose our weaknesses and demonstrate that they are faster, deeper and better conditioned in route to their victories over us.

We don’t have a healthy Devine Street, who might not even play, Tom Savage will be limping around again on Friday, and to be able to run the ball, Pitt’s OL will need to have an out of body experience since they have demonstrated from previous performances that opening up big running lanes have not been their forte up to this point in the season.

Now for the good news, unfortunately for the U, their secondary is riddled with injuries, besides Gunter being out, two other underclassmen CBs are also out after last week named Elder and Dortch. So if, for some unbeknown reason, Pitt’s OL decides to actually protect Savage in the pocket for more than two seconds at a time in this game then, we just might be able to put a hurt on the Hurricanes with our vertical passing game. BTW, that’s a big “IF”. Some more good news is that Tom Savage had a great game last week getting the ball away quickly utilizing a planned short passing attack against Syracuse’s impressive pass rush/blitz packages and was only sacked three times. Hopefully Tom can build on that success against Miami. Lastly, it was good seeing Terrish Webb back on the field, he is proving to be a needed ingredient in keeping Pitt’s secondary effective.

All the above being said, I’m still not buying the Pitt +2 1/2 Vegas point spread out today. What do they know that I’m not seeing?????

Yeah, all my Koolaid got consumed last week bringing home the Syracuse win. I hate to do my imitation of UPittbaseball but this Pitt team will have between a slim to none chance of beating the Hurricanes. Furthermore, I don’t want to be a real downer but, I think that we get an embarrassing a$$ whipping in the process to end the regular season.

And I would greatly appreciate it if all you guys would spend the time necessary on Saturday to adequately reprimand me on my lack of faith after Pitt pulls out the unexpected win, thank you very much in advance.

Hail to Pitt?

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.26.13 @ 2:29 pm

just win baby win 7 and 5 is nice.

Comment by Frankcan 11.26.13 @ 2:30 pm

There have been plenty of offensive series where Pitt is three and out and all three plays are pass plays.
Connor and Bennett both average over 4.5 yards per carry.

Comment by notrocketscience 11.26.13 @ 2:41 pm

I tend to agree with the thought that the run game has been given up on too quickly. Now you can argue that the all of the bubble screens Pitt ran last Saturday were a subsitiute for the run game, but I don’t think they were too productive either.

Comment by wbb 11.26.13 @ 2:54 pm

The only reason they get to 4.5 is because of how frequently we pass, if we ran the ball 2 out of every 3 times we’d end up with negative yards for the whole game … like we did against GT. Negative yards, for an entire game.

Comment by PittHW 11.26.13 @ 3:04 pm

PittofDreams, we who follow Pitt football know Donald is “HEISMAN WORTHY” but if you read the last sentence in that atricle that you posted the link to, it is stated clearly why Aaron will be invisible when the final Heisman votes are tallied.

I’d love to see him reel in the Outland Trophy though, that one amoung others, he does have the inside track on. Best thing is that trophy is for all interior linemen, on both sides of the ball. A very prestigious award that Aaron is totally worthy to receive!

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.26.13 @ 3:48 pm

Pitt 24 Miami 16

Comment by Dan 11.26.13 @ 3:49 pm

BTW, at 5:30 today ESPNU has a special about the finalists for the Outland Trophy, of which Donald is one of the three.

link to sportswriters.net

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.26.13 @ 3:57 pm

the yards per carry numbers for Conner and Bennett may be inflated due to the weak early season opponents

Comment by anonyz 11.26.13 @ 4:19 pm

The true “Reality Check” is that if Aaron does garner the Outland Trophy at the ceremony, he will be in the rarified air that only one other Pitt guy has ever inhaled, Mark May.

Another great link giving a nod to AD:
link to youtube.com

Comment by Dr. Tom 11.26.13 @ 4:19 pm

I think fans tend to underestimate what May does for the program. His popularity/the disdain many fans have for him does put eyes on TV sets when we’re on. There’s a reason Pitt-ND ends up one of the most watched games of the season.

Comment by Justin 11.26.13 @ 4:29 pm

I really hate Miami. They pretty much kicked the crap out of us routinely in the Big East. Back in the day they were the U.

Hated them so much, I even enjoyed when PSU spanked them in the big bowl game.

They would make a pretty good hated rival. Unfortunately, the current bunch of kids is probably unaware of the history. Friday would be a good time to start. Let’s beat the old “Beast of the Big East”

As far as the running game is concerned, I am convinced that Conner is hurt again, did not see much of him in the second half, wonder when his last carry was? Unfortunately Bennett is not good enough to put the team on his shoulders.

Emel, I’m sorry but I hope the experiment with Boyd in the backfield is over for the year. Heinz field is a sloppy mess this time of year and I don’t want him to get killed.

Really glad to see Hollins get some time, it should have happened earlier. I also think they should try Ibrahim at wideout, if Street is down again. Tinker and Wuestner have not showed much. Ibrahim better in the open field.

Should also be a great day for Garner and Holtz. Need Parrish to blast open a few holes for Bennett. Bennett going to have real competition next year, now’s the time for him to do something worth remembering.

It would be nice to see 50,000 fans on Friday, now I’m really drinking the Kool-Aid.

Comment by gc 11.26.13 @ 4:38 pm

Mark May is the “Man”

Comment by gc 11.26.13 @ 4:39 pm

Nice piece Dr Tom, keep that pub coming.

Comment by gc 11.26.13 @ 4:45 pm

@ Dr. Tom – thanks. Great video about a true Pitt man. It should make all of us proud.

H2P!!!

Comment by Pitt Dad 11.26.13 @ 4:47 pm

More compliments for AD –

link to post-gazette.com

Comment by Pitt Dad 11.26.13 @ 5:48 pm

I sure hope Street is healthy by Friday…I don’t think we have a chance without him in there.

Comment by Jackagain 11.26.13 @ 6:18 pm

Wow, Pitt plus 2 1/2? Classic. If you are surprised (which I am), Pitt will probably win. Never second guess Vegas.

Comment by 66Goat 11.26.13 @ 6:24 pm

How many stars did they give AD when he was recruited?

Comment by Oklahomeboy 11.26.13 @ 6:58 pm

right 66Goat. I was suprised ND was only a 4 point favorite and that worked out pretty well.

Historically Thug U beats us up pretty good. Sans the one game where Rod was a junior down there and 1997.

So maybe Vegas knows someting we don’t.

Comment by EMel 11.26.13 @ 7:04 pm

Wonder how many points the spread moves on weather. The U players may freeze. Saw a comment that one of their players had never played in under 50 degrees. Most of their team is from the south so let it snow.

Comment by Jimbo 11.26.13 @ 7:47 pm

Just saw Chris Doleman on Big Break NFL, our 8th guy in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, did he attend a Pitt game last year after his induction?

Comment by gc 11.26.13 @ 8:19 pm

Did they replace the turf at Heinz as is traditional after the high school games?

Heinz turf should slow them down some.

Like to see our power running game, hope Conner is up to it.

Comment by gc 11.26.13 @ 8:33 pm

Here’s hoping the O-Line has a great day, that’s the key to Pitt’s success (IMO).

Comment by Imma Man! Im 40! 11.26.13 @ 9:06 pm

perfect time for a let-down game by Miami…. the season is a disapointment.

Not sure a win really impacts bowl destination???

The cold and wind will effect this FL kids that have not seen cold weather since….??

If Pitt can run hard, play hard defense… I do think these U players might letdown in the second half.

Pitt on the other hand… boy they do have a lot to play for in terms of proving they are learning how to win… and an extra win would make a difference in bowl games I believe (?).

Comment by Pittscript 11.27.13 @ 12:09 am

The primary enemy is us, not Miami. The cold may help us just a little, but this staff never ceases to amaze me with it’s confusion over who to put on the field and how to win a game. The offseason can’t arrive fast enough for someone to sit down with Chryst and tell him to remake half the staff.

Comment by PittMan 11.27.13 @ 11:50 am

At 75 and blood thinners etc I can’t do this late season crap like when I used to go to all the games but my grandsons and their friends will be my delegates. Hope we put some butts in those seats. Miami’s home games often look like Heinz field at the NM Game. 31 degrees and a rockin house would really be great Pitt help.

Comment by Pitt 60 11.27.13 @ 11:56 am

I was listening to Greg Gianotti today on the The Fan who maintained that the evaluation of this season hinges on the game with the ‘Canes. Lose badly and we are regressing, win or lose in a good fight and we are moving forward.

Reflected on that a bit and am not sure I agree with that assessment.

Of course, a win over the U would be great and we’d all be swept up in lasting euphoria. Myself, I’m still buzzing over the ND win. But a loss – barring an 80-20 UNC-ODU like score – doesn’t seal the season for me as regression or a disaster. Reasons:

– This year’s strength of schedule is clearly tougher than last year. And three plays change – one each in the Navy, GT and UNC games – and we’re a ranked team. SMH over that. And yes, I realize that the plays weren’t made and one can always micro-analyze the wins to find a way to make them seem less meaningful.

– Disciplinary and/or other issues with players have abated during the season.(knock on wood) I may be mistaken, but I cannot recall anyone being suspended this year.

– There is a group of kids who stepped up and have led this year. Savage, Street, Donald… those guys have set a good example for all underclassmen. And guys who have gotten in the doghouse – Thomas and Hollins particularly – have handled their situations well.

– Speaking of the freshman, considering they’ve been thrown into the breach – without the benefit of a RS year to adjust – have looked OK. Did anyone expect all three Clairton kids to see the field this year back on LOI day? I can remember their signings being dismissed as a couple Class AA players not up to D-I football. Both have contributed beyond what I expected.

– Recruiting is probably still a toss-up. I will wait for LOI day before concluding.

– The coaching staff overall has been a bit too slow to adjust – I will be nice and call it cautious play calling. But there are some recent signs that they’re adjusting and the kids seem to be responding. Tighter coverage on the D and more success in the short passing game are two examples. It would have been nice to see that earlier, but at least HCPC finally got it – perhaps those lessons will stick. Do not confuse my comment as a suggestion the coaching staff is fine. I’m just making a relative comment about overall progress.

With all of than in mind, I feel that Chryst has stabilized the program, brought in some quality kids that have stayed off the police blotter (knock again)and have played competitively. I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet.

So, its hard for me to look at Friday’s game as some sort of significant event in that story.

No Kool-Aid here; just giving some Thanks for what we have and are as opposed that what we don’t have and aren’t.

If there aren’t any posts tomorrow, I will extend best wishes to you now for a nice holiday!

Comment by Joe Lawrence 11.27.13 @ 3:17 pm

lots of media are predicting pitt to win

which means miami will win by 3 touchdowns of course

if it’s cold and windy enough and a little bit of snow wouldn’t hurt either, morris might just end up looking like tino out there and pitt will have a very good chance to win

if morris makes only 1 or 2 bonehead mistakes then it’s gonna be long cold afternoon :( gotta have him screw up 4, 5 times, and each time it has to end a drive, to shut down miami’s scoring enough to have a shot

Comment by deepelemblues 11.27.13 @ 6:22 pm

Looking forward to this game!

Does anyone have the 13-9 game on DVD? I’d love to get a copy of it but I can’t find one. If anyone has it and can bring it to Heinz on Friday I’d be happy to meet up with you!
Hail To Pitt!!!

Comment by Mr Pitt 2001 11.27.13 @ 11:22 pm

Second that Mr Pitt someone needs to sell that, I’d put it on my Christmas list!! That and the 4ot nd game and the Palko nd game would be a nice box set!!

Comment by John 11.28.13 @ 9:31 am

I agree John!
Hail To Pitt!

Comment by Mr Pitt 2001 11.28.13 @ 10:06 am

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