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Canes Staying Focused

By Carlos Pineda
SouthernPigskin.com
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Unlike some of the other teams on the outside looking in, and needing some pieces to fall in their favor, Miami's path to the playoff is within its control.

The Hurricanes moved up a spot to No. 2 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking that was released on Tuesday night.

Unlike some of the other teams on the outside looking in and needing some pieces to fall in their favor, Miami's path to the playoff is within its control.

But before the Hurricanes can turn their attention to next week's clash against Clemson and any further talk regarding the four-team playoff, they have one more regular season hurdle to go through, a road game against old Big East rival Pitt Friday at noon.

The Hurricanes look to close out year two of the Mark Richt era with a perfect 11-0 record.

A win over the 4-7 Panthers would not only extend the nation's longest winning streak to 16 games, but it would give the Canes their seventh undefeated regular season dating back to 1979.

Miami is two weeks removed from back-to-back high profile wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, respectively.

Last week saw the Hurricanes overcome two 14-point deficits and outscoring Virginia 30-7 in the second half to pick up a 44-28 win.

It was far from pretty considering how dominant they had looked against the Fighting Irish on Nov. 11, but the win proved to show Miami's resilience.

They took Virginia's offensive onslaught and responded.

Despite allowing a season-high 439 yards, the Miami defense turned the tide in the second half. After allowing three first half touchdowns and one touchdown early in the third quarter, they tightened up the rest of the way. Highlighted by Jaquan Johnson's 30-yard interception return for a touchdown that tied the game at 28, they forced the Cavaliers to turn the ball over downs three times and punt twice. Virginia had amassed 310 of total yards through the first two quarters and took a 21-14 lead into the half.

Miami’s defense has gained a lot fame this season thanks in part to the introduction of the turnover chain and the celebration that ensues on the sideline afterward. The chain has fuel the turnover production. The Canes lead the country in turnover margin and are tied for sixth in tackles for loss.  

Against Virginia, Malik Rosier and the offense were able to score 14 points of turnovers, and produced four second-half touchdowns. Rosier, despite throwing two interceptions and looking out of rhythm at times, was able to lead the offense as he threw for 210 yards with four total touchdowns. Travis Homer, despite being held to five yards in the first half, gained 96 rushing yards and capped off the win with a 19-yard touchdown run.

Homer hasn’t missed a stride since becoming the starting running back in early October after Mark Walton went down with a season-ending injury. Homer has rushed for 100 yards three times this year, including 170 versus Georgia Tech and 146 against Notre Dame. He has rushed for 849 yards with seven touchdowns, and is sixth in receiving with 217 yards and a score.

This week Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said, the Hurricanes "have proven that they’re the best in the ACC and one of the top four teams in the country. But it’s not just going to be laid in their lap. Miami’s not going to come in here and lay down. They’re well coached. They’re motivated. They’re a very confident bunch of guys that are on a mission.

“They have a lot to lose if they don’t come in here ready.”

Despite their record, the Panthers have had some close encounters that could have been wins. Three of their last four losses came by six points or less, including last week’s 20-14 loss to Virginia Tech.

Miami will be the highest ranked team they have faced at home since going up against the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes in 2001. That ’01 squad went 12-0 en route to winning to program’s fifth championship.

The players and coaching staff have been tested all season long. They understand what’s at stake.

A win on Friday sends an undefeated Miami team to its first ACC title game with a spot in the playoffs on the line.

But first, they will need to take care of Pitt.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.