Miami and Pittsburgh both entered this season ranked and facing high expectations in their respective conferences. Now, both are 1-1 after disappointing nonconference road losses and are looking for a statement win. Big East blogger Brian Bennett and ACC blogger Heather Dinich take a closer look at Thursday night’s matchup:
Heather Dinich: Well, here we are again, Bennett, only this time instead of debating the race to the bottom between our two pseudo-BCS conferences, the ACC and Big East are both faced with another opportunity to make a splash in front of a nationally televised audience against a respectable opponent. Pitt has since dropped out of the rankings after its road loss to Utah, but I know you still think the Panthers are one of the two best teams in the Big East. Then again, if I remember correctly, you were touting Dave Wannstedt last year in the matchup against NC State which, ahem, the Pack won, 38-31. What makes you think the Panthers can hold their own against this Miami team -- other than home-field advantage?
Brian Bennett: Yes, Heather, it's best on best this week. I see you have the Hurricanes No. 1 in your ACC power poll, and Pitt was my preseason pick to win the Big East. So it should be a good measuring stick between the leagues.
These teams are actually pretty similar. Their offensive and defensive schemes have a lot in common, and Randy Shannon learned at the feet of Wannstedt early in his career. So I think it will be a good matchup. Miami probably has more speed, but don't underestimate the athletes that Wannstedt has compiled at Pitt, either. The Panthers, when they're at their peak, are tough and physical and control the ball through the running game. The Hurricanes? I'm not sure what they're strength is after watching the Ohio State game, except for their special teams.
What makes you think Miami and Jacory Harris will be play well enough to win a big game on the road?
HD: Well, for starters, I spoke with Shannon earlier this week and he liked the way his team responded to the loss during the bye week. He said nobody was hanging his head, and there’s still a lot of confidence within the program. Also, if you take away the four interceptions and eight penalties (yikes) against Ohio State, it was really a pretty evenly-matched game in terms of first downs, time of possession and total yards. The question is whether or not Miami can play better in the red zone, play more disciplined and limit the turnovers. Now, I’m looking at Pitt’s pass defense, which ranks No. 94 in the country after allowing 254 yards per game and wondering how the Panthers will slow down Harris and his speedy group of receivers, running backs and tight ends? (That’s assuming those guys don’t drop the ball nine times like they did against the Buckeyes, of course.)
BB: Pass coverage is a big issue for the Panthers, especially over the middle. Their linebackers have not been very good covering people, and now they are changing the lineup, partly because of an off-the-field transgression. That may be a blessing in disguise, though, because the guy who's sitting -- Dan Mason -- has had all kinds of trouble defending the pass.
Pitt's main problems defensively usually come against spread offenses like Utah and Cincinnati. Against a more traditional offense like Miami, I think the Panthers can match up well. A key will be their pass rush, especially with Greg Romeus not playing because of his back surgery.
HD: Well, the Canes’ offense certainly helped Ohio State’s cause, giving the Buckeyes four possessions on turnovers, but Shannon wasn’t happy with missed tackles and dropped interceptions (he counted three), and he let his players know about it with an uncharacteristic tirade. Still, Miami leads the nation in tackles for loss, ranks second nationally in sacks and 16th in total defense. They’ll have to limit the big plays by Baldwin while at the same time accounting for Lewis. Unlike Pitt, Miami’s defense has been solid on third down. Bottom line: It’s good enough to win. And if Miami is going to prove it’s still headed in the right direction despite the road loss to Ohio State, the Canes better be able to beat the second-best team in the Big East. You go ahead and take the final word, but remember what happened the last time you picked Wannstedt over the ACC.
BB: Heather, you're conveniently forgetting the Meineke Car Care Bowl, when Pitt beat North Carolina. But I'll forgive you since the Tar Heels might not technically still have a program at this point.
Anyway, I think Pitt will make vast improvement from Week 1, when it didn't play very well and still took a very good Utah team to overtime on the road. Lewis is ready for a breakout performance after a shaky start, and Harris will help the defense out with more off-target throws. Miami will make some big plays, but Pitt will control the tempo with its running game and pull out a close victory in the end.