Preview | Pitt looks to avoid post-Clemson hangover against the Hurricanes


AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke (9) pitches the ball to running back Jaylan Knighton during a football game against North Carolina State at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. on Saturday.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

It seems like it was just yesterday when a relatively unknown first-year backup quarterback named Kenny Pickett ruined then No. 2 Miami Hurricanes’ perfect season in 2017, taking them down 24-14. Fast forward to today and Pickett, now a redshirt senior, has the No. 17 Panthers at 6-1 and in sole possession of the Coastal Division.

Miami (3-4, 1-2 ACC), a team with lofty hopes at the beginning of the season, now has an opportunity to return the favor and dash the Panthers’ hopes at a run to the College Football Playoff. Since the season started, the Hurricanes have lost their starting quarterback to injury and fallen out of the AP top-25 after starting the year at No. 14

But the past few weeks have been inspiring for the Hurricanes. First-year quarterback Tyler Van Dyke has led the offense to a couple of inspiring performances, including a win over No. 18 NC State.

The Hurricanes may be a program that’s on the decline, but make no mistake — if the Panthers aren’t ready, they’ll pay the price.

Here’s what to look for when the Panthers take on the Hurricanes this weekend.

Will there be a post-Clemson hangover?

After an emotional win, like Pitt’s victory over Clemson, teams are often faced with what people call “letdown games.” In layman’s terms, there’s a potential for the Panthers to have a hangover after such a big win. But head coach Pat Narduzzi said he doesn’t see this happening.

We have a mature group in here, a senior group of leaders that will take care of it,” Narduzzi said. “I think we learned from our past mistakes. If we don’t, we’re a bunch of knuckleheads.

You can get beat by anybody in this conference every week … I think our guys are smart, that’s why they came to Pittsburgh and didn’t go to some other institutions.”

Narduzzi has time and time again raved about Pickett’s ability to lend words of wisdom to his teammates. Pickett said after the game that instilling this leadership has been a goal of his since he started at Pitt as a first-year.

“As a [first-year] I wanted to come in and take over like a pro,” Pickett said. “Come in and work hard and earn the respect of my teammates. Once you earn their respect, you can start to become more vocal … I appreciate that these guys look to me as that kind of leader.”

As long as Pickett is in charge, don’t expect the Panthers to be unprepared on Saturday.

Will Jordan Addison and Israel Abanikanda play?

Besides Pickett, sophomore duo receiver Jordan Addison and running back Israel Abanikanda are the two most lethal options offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has at his disposal. But Whipple could very well be without both of these two this weekend.

Addison and Abanikanda both left Pitt’s game against Clemson with what The Associated Press reported as concussions. Narduzzi did not offer much more information on the injuries themselves, but did say both of their abilities to play were up in the air.

“They were nasty, nasty hits,” Narduzzi said. “Real questionable for this weekend unfortunately. We’ll see.”

Narduzzi also clarified that it wasn’t up to him whether or not the two played.

“I mean, you can’t ever project what’s going to happen, but we’re going to protect our kids,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll see where they are. I don’t make that decision. Our trainers and doctors will make that decision.”

If these two can’t go on Saturday, look for first-year running back Rodney Hammond and junior wide receiver Jared Wayne to see increased playing time. 

Will the defense be able to neutralize another RPO-style offense?

Like Virginia Tech and Clemson, Miami runs a Run-Pass-Option style offense. The RPO spelled trouble for the Panthers back in September when they fell to the Broncos. But since then, Narduzzi has made adjustments to the defense which have been very effective in neutralizing these types of offenses.

Van Dyke will present a new opportunity for the Panthers, as he is one of the better passers they’ve seen in the past few weeks. Narduzzi said he’s going to have to prepare his secondary for a more vertical offense this week.

“He’s just got great composure in the pocket, has a nice arm, throws a nice, deep ball,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to have to play the deep ball well with all the speed at receiver … They’ve got a tempo that goes with that speed.”

This one will once again come down to the play of the secondary. If Hallett and redshirt sophomore safety Brandon Hill can keep playing the way they have been, the Panthers should be just fine.

Prediction | Pitt wins fifth straight, 38-20

Despite the potential for a “letdown game,” expect the Panthers to keep rolling this weekend. Pickett’s presence on offense alone will make up for the lack of Addison and Abanikanda should those two not be able to play.

Pickett will also keep his team reigned in this week and make sure they have a good week of practice ahead of their matchup with the Hurricanes.

Van Dyke has been hot for the Hurricanes but Pitt’s defensive line won’t make it easy on him. Don’t expect to see Van Dyke’s success persist into this week’s matchup, especially against the improved Panther defense.

Now that Pitt seems to be the ACC’s team to beat, Narduzzi knows that Miami is going to bring their best in hopes to knock off the Panthers.

“We’ll have a big target on our back,” Narduzzi said. “People will be coming after us. We’ll get Miami’s best game. We’ve got to be prepared to go.”

The game will kickoff at Heinz Field at noon on Saturday and air on ACC Network.