By Alex Donno

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Hurricanes will look to complete their first undefeated regular season since 2002 when they face the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field. And with the ACC Championship Game just 8 days away, they’ll look to avoid a letdown against a 4-7 opponent.

Miami is 7-0 in ACC play for the first time since joining the conference in 2004, and at 10-0 overall, they’ve clinched their first 10-win season since 2003. Miami has already clinched the Coastal Division crown, and will face Atlantic Division-winning Clemson on December 2nd in the ACC Championship game.

The possibilities are endless for Miami, who controls its own destiny for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

But before such dreams can materialize, The Hurricanes face a Pittsburgh Panthers squad with little to lose. At 4-7, the Panthers have missed out on Bowl-eligibility, and carry just a 2-5 conference record. They also carry an uncertainty at the quarterback position, as head coach Pat Narduzzi will choose between true freshman Kenny Pickett and sophomore Ben DiNucci.

Prepared for everything

Friday will be senior day for Pittsburgh. With no bowl game on the horizon, they’ll be looking out to close a disappointing season on a high note. The idea of playing spoiler to Miami’s playoff hopes and 15-game winning streak will serve as tremendous motivation for Pat Narduzzi’s team. In essence, this game is Pittsburgh’s bowl game.

“We know it’s a short week,” said Miami head coach Mark Richt. “We know we’re going to their house. We know it’s a big day for their seniors, the last opportunity for them to play. I’m sure they’ll bring everything they’ve got and we need to bring everything we have.”

Miami will be ready for fake punts, onside kicks, reverses, flea flickers and more. You can expect the Panthers to throw everything at the Hurricanes, including the kitchen sink.

Moving on up

After their 44-28 home win over Virginia last Saturday, Miami moved up a spot in the College Football Playoff rankings. They now sit number 2, right behind Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Clemson, who Miami will face for the ACC crown in 8 days, is ranked 3rd.

“I don’t worry about it too much, to be honest with you,” Mark Richt said of the rankings. “I guess they’ve been cutting hairs on who’s number one, two, three, four and five anyways. I don’t know their formula. I’m not trying to figure out what it is. I’m just trying to figure out how to beat Pitt. I’m sorry, that’s all I’ve got.”

Key matchup

To say Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled to defend against the pass would be an understatement. The Panthers rank 113th nationally in pass defense, giving up over 260 yards per game.

While Miami will look to establish the run first, they should have numerous opportunities to attack the Panthers downfield. Miami has 6 receivers who have caught passes of at least 46 yards this season.

Senior receiver Braxton Berrios leads his team in receptions(41), yards (522), and touchdowns (8).

Hurricanes starting quarterback Malik Rosier has thrown at least 1 touchdown pass in each of his 11 career starts, and multiple TD passes in 9 of them.  Rosier is top 30 nationally in yards per attempt at 8.04. His 2,620 passing yards on the season rank him 31st.

Rosier threw 3 touchdown passes and ran for another in Miami’s come from behind win against Virginia. He also threw 2 interceptions on the day, bringing his touchdown/interception ratio to 23 to 9 on the season. Rosier is the first Miami quarterback to begin a season 10-0 as a starter since Ken Dorsey did it twice in 2001 and 2002.

Homer just shy of milestone

Starting running back Travis Homer, who didn’t start until the 5th game of the year (after Mark Walton’s injury), is just 151 yards short of a 1,000 yard season. The Hurricanes will have at least 3 games remaining – providing 3 or 4 more chances to reach the milestone. Against Virginia, Homer led Miami with a game-high 96 rushing yards, and scored a 19 yard touchdown.

Pittsburgh ranks 84th nationally against the run, allowing 148.2 rush yards per contest. Miami averages 176.2 yards per game on the ground.

Turnover Chain and aggressive defense

Every Hurricane to intercept a pass or recover a fumble is awarded the famed “turnover chain” on the sidelines.

Miami ranks first nationally turnovers per game (2.7) and is tied for first in turnover margin (+16). Miami has forced 27 turnovers this season and 19 over their past 5 games. Safety Jaquan Johnson (5) and cornerback Michael Jackson (5) lead the team in turnover chains earned through 10 games.

And Miami’s front 7 has brought pressure and heat all season long. Defensive end Trent Harris leads his team with 8.0 sacks on the season. He’s had 3 multi-sack performances this season.

The Hurricanes lead the nation in team sacks (3.80) and rank fourth in the nation in team tackles for loss (9.0).

Whoever suits up at quarterback for Pittsburgh will likely have to release the football in a hurry.

Weather?

Historically, these late season games in Western Pennsylvania can provide less than ideal conditions for the warm weather team from Coral Gables. This time around, the temperatures are expected between the mid-40’s and low-50’s. While it’s certainly not Key Biscayne in May, it’s not the brutal winter that Pittsburgh can sometimes offer this time of year. The forecast appears to be in Miami’s favor.

Game Time

Kickoff for Miami – Pittsburgh is set for 12-Noon at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA on Friday, November 24th. You can listen to the game on 560 WQAM, with pregame coverage beginning at 8:00 AM

 

 

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