Pitt Football Preview (AT MIAMI)

By Dylan Mitchell, Capel Faithful Team

Deflated. That is the only word I can think of that accurately sums up the feeling around the Pitt football program right now. Funny how just two weeks ago, we had people complaining about not being ranked high enough in the AP Top 25. Now, after two one-point losses, the Panthers are 3-2 staring down what is probably the toughest two-game stretch on their schedule. Deflated… may be an understatement.

History is not on Pitt’s side

The last two times Pitt has traveled to Miami to play the Hurricanes, they’ve lost 24-3 (2018) and 51-28 (2016). In fact, other than a 35-23 win at Miami in 2014, the Panthers have not gone on the road and beat Miami since 1963. 2014 broke a 10-game winless streak for the Panthers on the road against the Hurricanes, and they have since dropped two more.

Miami has won four of the past five meetings between the teams, the lone exception being Kenny Pickett’s first career start in which the Panthers upset the #2 ranked Hurricanes and spoiled their shot at a College Football Playoff berth. Pitt has not scored a touchdown against the Canes in the two games they’ve played since. With uncertainty around Pickett’s health heading into Saturday, breaking that touchdown drought could be an uphill battle.

What is the backup quarterback situation?

Pat Narduzzi likes to keep any information about injuries close to the vest, so we won’t know Kenny Pickett’s availability until Saturday morning. Narduzzi has tried to play it down to the media this week, and continues to say that Pickett looks good and could be ready to play come Saturday. I am not a doctor, but I do know what I saw last Saturday. Pickett, being the fierce competitor that he is, pushed through what seems to be a fairly significant ankle injury to give the Panthers an opportunity to tie the game in overtime (we won’t talk about what happened next). It was clear that the only things keeping him going were adrenaline and athletic tape. That did not look like a guy who would be ready to go seven days later. If he does go, he won’t be 100%; that I am certain of.

So what is Pitt’s plan at quarterback if #8 is unavailable Saturday? The nod will ultimately go to a former 4-star recruit Davis Beville, the redshirt freshman from South Carolina, or Joey Yellen, the Arizona State transfer. Pitt has yet to name a clear backup QB entering the sixth game of the season. Is this an indictment on Pitt’s coaching staff’s inability to make the decision? Could the staff be stringing this along as a competition for the starting job next year? Is it as simple as neither guy has separated themselves as the clear #2 in practice? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but I sure hope the coaches have a plan. When Pickett went down against BC, Yellen stepped in but did not throw a pass. Because of this, I think we see Yellen get the first start of his Pitt career against Miami if Pickett is unable to play, but do not be surprised if he has a short leash and Beville sees some work as well. 

Can Pitt pull it off?

Everyone is well aware of Pitt’s reputation for upsetting opponents that they have no business beating. It has become somewhat of a staple of the program and the one thing we can hang our hats on. In Pat Narduzzi’s tenure, they have defeated the likes of #2 Clemson in 2016, #2 Miami in 2017, and #15 Central Florida in 2019 (Side note – people like to include the 2016 win over Penn State in this discussion because of how the season played out, but Pitt was a slight favorite in that game. People forget that.) 

Say what you want about Narduzzi, but he always seems to have his teams ready to play against these marquee opponents, even if it means they don’t show up in games they are supposed to win. Pitt has three opponents remaining on the schedule who fall under this category of “marquee opponent”. They have Miami this week, Notre Dame next week, and Clemson to finish the season. Now if Pitt beats Miami this week, I am not going to go gung-ho and praise Narduzzi for a win over the Hurricanes. They are coming off a 42-17 loss at the hands of Clemson, so they are clearly not in the same tier of elite college football teams this season. This is a talented Miami team that realistically should beat Pitt at home, but if they don’t, I won’t feel like this is a program-changing game. I will look at it for what it is: a win over a divisional opponent that you should be competing with, year-in and year-out. This is not the Miami Hurricanes of the early 2000s, they are a program that has failed to reach that level of success and is fighting to get back there. They are not there yet. What I will acknowledge is that a win would move Pitt to 4-2, and keep their heads above water to still potentially have a successful season (although I admittedly do not know what the measuring stick for “successful” looks like at this point).

No Pickett, no chance. Let’s pray that we can see #8 give it a go on Saturday. If not, we’re going to be in for a long day.

Prediction: Miami 27 – Pitt 10

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