Date: Thursday, September 23
Matchup: #19 Miami (Fla.) (1-1, 0-0 ACC) at Pittsburgh (1-1, 0-0 Big East)
TV: 7:30 PM ESPN
Venue: Heinz Field (grass)
Sports.com Line: Miami -4 O/U 55
Last week we witnessed the Cincinnati Bearcats, Big East Champions from 2009, get manhandled on the road in the ACC by the N.C. State Wolfpack. This week presents the opportunity for the Big East to get a measure of payback on the ACC as we head north to watch the Pittsburgh Panthers, play host to the Miami Hurricanes of the ACC.
For Pittsburgh, the preseason favorite to win the Big East, it has not been a good start to the season. The Panthers opened on the road at Utah, full of confidence with national ranking (#15) and a tailback (Dion Lewis) who was squarely in the Heisman conversation to start the year.
However, demonstrating how quickly things can turn, just two weeks later, Pittsburgh finds itself lacking confidence, searching for an identity and trying to keep players healthy and out of trouble.
It all started with a 27-24 overtime loss at Utah to open the season; certainly forgivable considering how tough the Utes are, especially at home. The Panthers then followed up that loss with a very uninspiring win over New Hampshire in which Lewis gained just 27 yards on 10 carries.
Then the personnel hits started.
First there was the news that the 2009 Big East co-defensive player of the year, defensive end Greg Romeus, will likely miss the rest of the season after having surgery to repair a disc in his lower back.
As Coach Dave Wannstedt was dealing with that loss he also had to deal with off-the-field matters as running back Jason Douglas and offensive lineman Keith Coleman were suspended indefinitely after being arrested for a DUI and aggravated assault respectively.
And so three weeks to the day after starting the season on a Thursday night in Utah, Pittsburgh must figure out a way to get Lewis (102 yards on 35 carries) on track, make up for the loss of their best defender, while also regaining the team’s focus after the off-the-field distractions.
You’ll excuse Coach Randy Shannon if he doesn’t have much sympathy for the plight of the Panthers. The head man for the University of Miami is hoping his team to get his team headed back in the right direction after a disheartening loss at Ohio State.
Clearly, a loss to the Buckeyes at the “Horseshoe” is nothing to hang your head about but that said, the way Miami squandered opportunity after opportunity in a 36-24 defeat to OSU has many in the program feeling a hangover. And no one has a bigger headache from the loss than QB Jacory Harris.
The Miami signal caller was intercepted four times, a career-high for the junior, in a game that saw the Hurricanes commit eight penalties. Now Shannon must get his team to quickly clean up their act and travel to face a Pittsburgh team who is equally motivated for a win. There will definitely be a sense of urgency in the air this Thursday night on both sidelines as neither team wants to dip below .500 for the year.
The Panthers will look to Lewis, and his backup Ray Graham, to drive the offense but that pair of sophomores will clearly need help from QB Tino Sunseri – who is starting just his third collegiate game –in order to move the ball and score points against a tough Miami defense.
For the Hurricanes it will be about eliminating mistakes. If Harris can eliminate mistakes, and get the ball to weapons such as WR’s Leonard Hankerson and LaRon Byrd, then Miami can pile up points at a fast clip. Already this season the Hurricanes have four touchdown drives that have lasted less than two minutes, including one against Ohio State.
There is a pretty decent chunk of history between these two schools that used to compete against one another in the Big East. Pittsburgh would be just fine erasing most of that history as Miami has owned the Panthers to a 20-9-1 tune since these two began playing in 1950.
Pittsburgh and Miami haven’t played since 2003 – the last year Miami was in the Big East – but the Hurricanes are on a six-game winning streak in this series. The most ominous stat for the home team this Thursday night might be that the Panthers are 1-10 against ranked, non-conference opponents since 1996.