It's been an up and down season for the Hurricanes. After a shaky start that included three road losses to Louisville, Nebraska, and Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes caught fire and looked to be playing much better football during the second half of the season. They rattled off impressive wins against Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina before playing Florida State down to the wire. Things went bad again last week when they took an embarrassing loss at Virginia. At 6-5, the Canes will try to secure a winning season with a victory tonight.
For Pitt, they're now 2-6 in their last eight games after a 3-0 start. They are coming off an impressive 23-point win against Syracuse and will look to become bowl eligible with a win tonight.
WHEN PITT HAS THE BALL
Chad Voytik is having a solid sophomore season for the Panthers. He's thrown for over 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns and has also rushed for 400 yards. He's a legitimate dual-threat quarterback who takes good care of the football (just seven interceptions on the year).
His favorite target is sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd. At 6-foot-2, Boyd has over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns already. The standout pass-catcher caught nine passes for 98 yards and a score against Miami last season and is also a skilled return specialist.
James Conner has been the best player for the Panthers this season. At 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, he'll be the biggest running back the Canes have faced this season. He's already gone for 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season and will look to put a final stamp on what's been an excellent regular season.
The Hurricanes have been improved on defense this season but the Panthers have some offensive weapons that could give Miami some fits -- especially since the team's top safety (Deon Bush) has already been ruled out. The Canes will need to tackle well and get off the field on third downs or else the Panthers could control the clock and keep Miami's explosive offense off the field.
WHEN MIAMI HAS THE BALL
It's been the Duke Johnson show all season long. The talented junior has rushed for 1,431 yards and 10 touchdowns and could break the school's all-time rushing record tonight. He's also a weapon in the passing game and has caught 30 passes for 354 yards and a pair of scores.
When the Canes aren't feeding the ball to Johnson they're putting it in the hands of a freshman -- and what a season first year quarterback Brad Kaaya has enjoyed. While completing 60-percent of his passes, Kaaya has thrown for 2,666 yards and 23 touchdowns compared to just 11 interceptions.
Kaaya's two primary pass-catchers this season have been wide receiver Phillip Dorsett (26-723-8) and tight end Clive Walford (40-627-7). Dorsett is one of the fastest players in all of college football and so the Panthers will likely do whatever it takes to prevent him from getting past their secondary. When teams do that and drop safeties back deep, it creates mismatch problems when Walford is matched with opposing linebackers. The John Mackey Award Finalist should again play a key role for the Hurricanes.
The Panthers are led defensively by a pair of very good linebackers in Anthony Gonzalez and Ty Thomas. They're both very active and have the ability to make plays all over the field and on all three downs. Safety Ray Vinopal, a one-time Michigan transfer, is very active in the secondary and has made a lot of big plays this season.
You have to wonder which Miami team will show up tonight. Will it be the one that turned in four straight impressive performances starting with a big win over Cincinnati last month or will it be the team that got dominated on the road against Virginia last week? While they've been a disaster on the road under Al Golden, the Canes have actually played quite well at home over the last four seasons. Especially with it being Senior Night, the Canes should come out with plenty of energy and play a solid football game. If they play with positive energy and don't turn the ball over much, they should win the game going away against a team that isn't nearly as experienced or talented.