No. 13 Miami has emerged as one of the most high-profile success stories early in the college football season, kicking off the 2020 ACC season by lighting up the scoreboard in prime-time wins against Louisville and Florida State. The excitement around D’Eriq King and Year Two of the Manny Diaz era reached a fever pitch heading into last week’s top-10 showdown with No. 1 Clemson.
Things have cooled off a bit now, however, after a 42-17 loss to the Tigers. Not all is lost for a program that wants to refocus its efforts on finishing in the top two spots of the ACC standings and getting another shot at Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, but the margin for error has lessened with one conference loss just three games into a 10-game conference schedule.
Pitt is also dealing with some shifting expectations after a second-straight one-point loss in ACC play. One week after giving up a last-minute touchdown to NC State in a 30-29 home loss, the Panthers lost on a missed extra point in overtime at Boston College. Suddenly, the buzz from a 3-0 start with wins against Syracuse and Louisville has leveled off a little bit, but there are a pair of chances to change that with two ranked opponents coming up next on the schedule: at Miami this week and at home against Notre Dame on Oct. 24.
Miami: Clemson was able to hold Miami’s offense in check in a way that no other opponent has been able to in 2020 as the Hurricanes totaled just 210 yards of offense, with 56 of those yards came on one D’Eriq King run. Take that one explosive play out of the mix, and Miami averaged less than 3 yards per play on the rest of the game’s snaps. Was it that Miami’s offense had inflated numbers from its first three games or did Clemson’s defense turn in a championship-level performance. The only true test of that will be how Miami responds offensively, and while Pitt’s defense does not carry the talent or reputation of the Tigers, there are future pros (safety Paris Ford, for one) and a profile that ranks in the top five nationally (with Clemson) in yards per play allowed. One issue in particular that stood out was Miami’s wide receivers struggling to get separation against Clemson defensive backs, so keep an eye on that battle as a spot where the matchup hinges.
Pitt: When two points are the only thing separating you from a 5-0 start, there’s two ways to cut it: either the team is better than its record or there are issues preventing it from fulfilling its potential. Right now for Pitt, the answer is almost certainly the latter, and the frustrating part is the situational nature of those issues. The Panthers have one of the best down-to-down defenses in the country, ranking No. 1 in the ACC and No. 4 in the country in yards per play allowed. They rank No. 1 in the ACC and No. 4 nationally in sacks per game (5.0) as well as No. 1 in the ACC and No. 2 nationally in rushing defense. So how does that team end up allowing an average of 30.5 points in its two recent losses? The answer is not the offense as a whole, but specifically how the offense has struggled on third downs. Against FBS competition (four ACC games), Pitt has converted just 25 of its 68 third-down attempts. That 36.8% rate ranks No. 55 nationally among 76 FBS teams that have played so far in 2020. The Panthers have more third-down attempts than any other team with four FBS games under its belt thanks to a defense that continues to get stops, but they are converting them at a rate that continually hands the ball right back to the opponent. If you want to identify one area where Pitt’s offense can start to carry more of the team’s weight in these ACC games, third downs has to be where the conversation starts.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 17 | Time: Noon ET
Location: Hard Rock Stadium — Miami Gardens, Florida
TV: ACC Network | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Game prediction, picks
More than anything, I like the under in this game, thinking that an early kickoff in Hard Rock Stadium sets up for the kind of rock fight that Pitt wants in order to have a shot to win. The Panthers can hit some big plays with Kenny Pickett and the passing game, but it lacks the explosiveness to hang in a shootout with Miami. So if I’m thinking it’s lower-scoring and we have a double-digit spread, I’m on the underdog as a principle play. Pick: Pitt (+10.5)
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