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.