The Hurricanes travel to Heinz Field to play ACC Coastal division opponent Pittsburgh on Halloween weekend
If Webster’s Dictionary took the liberty of defining a “trap game” in college football, Miami’s trip to Heinz Field to take on ACC Coastal opponent Pittsburgh would come pretty close to fitting the bill.
The Hurricanes travel to play the Panthers on Saturday, October 30 at a time yet to be announced. Miami has won three consecutive games against Pittsburgh and five of its last six including a 31-19 victory over the Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium in October 2020.
So why a trap game, you ask?
Pitt is “good enough” to beat Miami
Pittsburgh is certainly not an ACC juggernaut nor will it be picked to win the ACC Coastal this season. But the Panthers have enough talent to spring a home upset over Miami if the Hurricanes aren’t on top of their game.
When Miami won at Hard Rock Stadium last season, it got the benefit of not having to face Panthers starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett missed two games for Pittsburgh last season – both losses – because of an ankle injury and the Panther offense was not the same without him. While Pickett is not a superstar quarterback by any means, he is reliable and is entering his fifth year in the Pittsburgh program.
Pittsburgh settled for four field goals in the 2020 loss to Miami and SOTU’s Justin Dottavio wrote that the Hurricanes won the game thanks to red zone defense.
Pickett and slot wide receiver Jordan Addison will give Pittsburgh the chance to score some points this season. Addison had eight catches for 147 yards against the Hurricanes in 2020 and his name is already being thrown around in the Biletnikoff Award discussions this preseason.
Pittsburgh also returns eight starters (two defensive linemen) off a defense that led the NCAA in sacks and was ranked No.20 overall in total defense. The Panthers always have somewhere between a more-than-serviceable and formidable defense and that would be seem to be true again in 2021 based on who is returning.
The schedule situation
Miami will be coming off arguably its two toughest ACC games of the season as it takes on North Carolina on the road on October 16 and North Carolina State at home on October 23.
It’s obviously impossible to predict how Miami will perform in those games or the state of the team heading into the Halloween weekend game against Pittsburgh. But coming off tough conference games can certainly be more taxing than coming off non-conference games or bye weeks in many situations.
And at the risk of bringing up painful memories, I want to flashback to the 2017 season. Coming off three straight hard fought victories over Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and Virginia, our No.2 ranked Miami Hurricanes travelled to Heinz Field to play Pitt in the final regular season game sitting at 11-0.
We all remember that disaster that afternoon. If you don’t, the “highlights” are below.
Pickett was responsible for all three Pitt touchdowns (two rushing, one passing) in that devastating loss.
Might Miami be in a similar position as it was in 2017 going into Heinz Field in 2021? Miami likely won’t be undefeated overall (Alabama, shrug) but potentially could be unbeaten in the ACC and have a lot riding on its last truly difficult road game of the season (sorry, Florida State and Duke, you don’t count).
Enough of this, why will Miami win?
Did you think you were on Cardiac Hill there for a second? Well, you’re not.
While it’s important to understand why Pitt can win this game, it’s equally as important to understand that Miami should win this game.
And make no mistake, if Miami has truly turned the corner and is one of the best teams in the ACC, it will win on Halloween weekend in Pittsburgh.
The Hurricanes have significantly more talent on both sides of the ball than the Panthers do. Miami held Pitt to -28 yards rushing (including sacks) in last season’s victory and Pittsburgh will be starting at least two new offensive linemen this fall. With the talent on Miami’s defensive line, particularly at defensive tackle, the Hurricanes should have no issue slowing down Pittsburgh’s running game again.
Miami returns every significant contributor on offense except for Brevin Jordan and will be in year two of Rhett Lashlee’s up-tempo spread offense. The Hurricanes should be clicking on all cylinders offensively by this time of the season and shouldn’t have trouble scoring at least 30 points even on a defense of Pittsburgh’s caliber.
Let’s be clear: if the Hurricanes are going to win 10 games this season, this is a must win game. The path to 10 wins with a loss at Heinz Field is a rocky one.
If Miami is going to take the next step as a program, it cannot lose to Pittsburgh on Halloween weekend. Whether it’s a trap game or not is debatable for some but what’s not debatable is the Hurricanes will need to win this game to accomplish the goals they set out for themselves this season.