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ACC Spotlight: Miami vs Pitt

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Dave Holcomb previews Miami and Pittsburgh.

After 3-0 starts to the season, Pitt and Miami will both be seeking to return to the winning track when they meet Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The sudden skid is much more disheartening for the Panthers than Hurricanes. For one, Miami isn’t technically on a losing streak since the Hurricanes have fallen just once, and it came on the road to Clemson. But Pitt has lost two straight to Boston College and NC State -- two teams that were expected to be closer to the bottom of the ACC standings than the top this year.

Pitt will have to play much better defensively in order to win at Miami this Saturday. The Panthers are ranked first in yards allowed and third in points allowed in the ACC, but those rankings are a bit skewed from the first three games. In their two losses, the Panthers have allowed more than 385 yards and at least 30 points. It turned out to just a couple points too many, as Pitt has lost by a single point in both defeats.

The Pitt defense allowed just 3.24 yards per play in its first three games, but against NC State and Boston College, the unit yielded 5.21 yards per play. Interestingly, the Wolfpack and Eagles also each ran at least 75 plays versus Pitt while Austin Peay, Syracuse and Louisville averaged about 55 plays against the Pitt defense.

More defensive plays could be the result of an offense failing to hold onto the ball, but that’s not the case for Pitt. The Panthers set a season high with 87 offensive plays against Boston College last week, and yet the Eagles still ran 76 plays too. Pitt could benefit from slowing the game down and asking for fewer snaps from its defense this week.

But that will be difficult against a Miami offense that wants to play fast and respond to its worst performance of the season. The Hurricanes racked up an average of 499 yards per week in the first three games of the season. During that stretch, they rushed for at least 160 yards in every game and averaged 6.68 yards per play.

Yet last week at Clemson, Miami posted just 210 yards and 3.89 yards per play.

Pitt leads the ACC in rushing defense, but in its two losses, the Panthers secondary has cracked. NC State and Boston College averaged 8.7 yards per pass with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Led by senior defensive lineman Patrick Jones II, Pitt leads the ACC with 25 sacks, but even with six sacks last week, the Panthers allowed Boston College to throw for 358 yards and three touchdowns with only one takeaway. Pitt must continue to apply pressure against the Hurricanes while also getting better coverage from its secondary.

That’s a tough ask from the Pitt secondary with a matchup against Miami quarterback D’Eriq King. He struggled last week versus Clemson, but in his first three games, King averaged 7.8 yards per pass with six touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Without a doubt, King’s favorite target in the red zone has been junior tight end Brevin Jordan, but King has spread his targets around to lots of different pass catchers. Through four games, five different Miami players have at least 10 receptions and/or 100 receiving yards while none of them have more than 18 catches or 250 yards.

That could help or work against the Pitt secondary. The Panthers don’t need to be concerned about an elite ACC receiver beating them repeatedly, but a balanced attack means there’s a lot of different areas where Miami could exploit the Pitt defense.

If that happens regularly on Saturday, Pitt will be asking quarterback Kenny Pickett to be much more efficient than he was last week when he completed just 51.1 percent of his passes and averaged 5.7 yards per pass. He’s also thrown an interception in three of his four ACC games.

Pickett must involve senior receiver DJ Turner much more than he did last week. Turner only caught one pass versus Boston College, but he leads the team with 331 receiving yards and an average of 18.4 yards per reception.

Prediction: Miami 35, Pitt 30