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Hot Read: Miami Gets Back to Winning Ways

By Dave Holcomb
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Miami beats Pittsburgh 31-19.

The Miami Hurricanes and Pitt Panthers both hoped to avoid turning their recent slumps into losing streaks Saturday. The Hurricanes accomplished that behind a dominating defensive effort, defeating the Panthers, 31-19.

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but the Hurricanes showed in the victory they can win without having a huge offensive day. More great times appear ahead for Miami while things may only continue to worsen for Pitt.

Here are five thoughts from Miami’s victory against Pitt:

Miami Wins with Defense

Quarterback D’Eriq King and the Hurricanes offense led the team to their 3-0 start, but Saturday, Miami defeated Pitt with mostly defense. The Panthers recorded just 300 total yards, including a mere 26 rushing yards, averaging under 1.0 yards per carry. It was the fewest amount of yards the Miami defense has allowed to an ACC opponent this season.

Furthermore, Pitt struggled mightily on third down, converting only 3 of 17 attempts. Miami also forced Pitt to settle for a field-goal attempt in the red zone four times.

The Hurricanes actually lost the turnover battle, 2-1, and only mustered 31 more offensive yards than Pitt, and yet Miami still won by double digits because of its defense in the red zone, on third down and against the run.

Will Mallory Becoming Mr. Touchdown

King wasn’t all that efficient, completing just 16 of 31 attempts for 222 yards, but he did toss four touchdowns. Two of them went to junior tight end Will Mallory.

His first touchdown came in a goal-to-go situation, and then in the second half, King found Mallory wide open down the left sideline for a 45-yard touchdown. Pitt’s secondary played pretty well, but it left Miami pass catchers wide open twice in the third quarter which resulted in two touchdowns.

Mallory has five catches this season and three of them have gone for scores.

Pitt Misses Kenny Pickett

Pickett entered this week as questionable because of an ankle injury and didn’t dress. Redshirt freshman Joey Yellen played well at times, but Pitt largely struggled to move the ball.

Yellen completed under 50 percent of his passes, going 22-for-46, with 277 yards and a touchdown. While he didn’t throw an interception, he only averaged 6.0 yards per attempt and coughed up a fumble on a sack in the third quarter.

I’ll get to Pitt’s upcoming schedule in a minute, but if Pickett doesn’t return soon, then Pitt will probably continue to really struggle. The Panthers have already made their 3-0 start a distant memory with a three-game losing streak.

Pitt Blew its Best Chances

The Panthers averaged 4.1 yards per play, so they didn’t exactly deserve to win, but they easily could have made this game more competitive in the fourth quarter. Yellen’s fumble led to a touchdown on a short field for Miami, but so did a failed fake punt during the first half.

Coach Pat Narduzzi called for a fake punt run on fourth-and-10 from the Panthers 42-yard line early in the second quarter. A fake punt pass might have worked better; the run went for a measly three yards, and Miami used the short field to score a touchdown less than four minutes later.

At that point, the game was 7-0, and neither offense was establishing much, so the better decision for Narduzzi would have been to pin Miami deep in its own territory and play defense.

The Pitt defense had some costly blown coverages, but it also intercepted two passes, one of which it returned to the 1-yard line. But that was the only touchdown the Panthers scored. On the team’s other four red zone trips, including a drive that started at the Miami 12-yard line, Pitt settled for four field goals.

On fourth-and-3 from the Miami 12 with under a minute to go in the third quarter and down 12 points, Narduzzi elected to kick the field goal. Unlike the moment when he called for the fake punt, that was the time to be aggressive. The field goal kept Miami ahead by two scores because it only shrunk the lead to nine. Pitt didn’t score again the rest of the afternoon.

Two Teams Appearing to Head in Opposite Directions

The Hurricanes couldn’t let their disappointing performance at Clemson feaster into an upset loss versus the Panthers if they wanted to stay alive in the ACC race. Miami didn’t let that happen, and with only two ranked teams remaining on the schedule (Virginia Tech and North Carolina), the Hurricanes are very much alive in the ACC.

As for Pitt, the Panthers face Notre Dame next week, so Pickett needs to heal quickly. The Panthers also still have to play Virginia Tech and Clemson. Despite the 3-0 start, they will have to win one of those three contests and take care of business versus Florida State and Virginia Tech in order to finish with a winning record.