Ketching up?

No. 1 Miami could be faced with several scenarios playing themselves out when they head into Pittsburgh's Heinz Field for a Thursday night tussle to open the Big East conference schedule (Sept. 27; ESPN; 7:30 p.m.) against the Panthers.

That said, Hurricanes head coach Larry Coker has taken extra measures in hopes of preparing his team for what they be faced with.

1.) rust; It's been a while since the Hurricanes took the field. Coker has put his team through every conditioning drill imaginable and has peppered the Hurricanes with the need of staying physically prepared.

"I can't understate the importance of staying sharp and heathly," Coker said. "At this point, it's right up there with the preparation for Pitt."

19 days have come and gone since Miami last played a meaningful football game, the result of their contest against Washington being postponed (Miami-Washington was postponed in light of the 'acts of terrorism' in New York, Washington and Western Pennsylvania).

The calendar needs to be fipped back to Sept. 8 when Miami handed Rutgers a 61-0 spanking. Pittsburgh also hasn't played since September 8.- although the Panthers probably would like to forget about the last time they participated in a football game. Pittsburgh has also gone to great measures in hopes of keeping players fresh for Thursday night.

"This is somewhat like training camp again. They now what it's going to take, especially against an athletically gifted team like Miami," said Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris. "We need to get ready for a track meet."

"I believe our players will be excited about playing Miami, but we need to be able to execute to play with that same excitement. If we don't execute that excitement will be gone."

2.) an angry opponent; The Panthers (1-1), selected to make a quantum leap this season in the Big East, are still reeling from perhaps their toughest loss in the school's 111 year history, a 35-26 setback to South Florida at home. The Panthers fell to a school that is starting their fifth year in football and only this season picked up a Division I-A schedule.

Despite closing within 26-20 in the fourth quarter, the Panthers could not overcome the Bulls. The Panthers defensive unit, considered a strength with 10 returning starters, allowed South Florida 443 yards on offense, including 343 yards through the air. Five South Florida running backs combined for 100 yards rushing.

Harris isn't too concerned with the lingering effects the upset loss will have on the Panthers. Instead, the fifth-year coach's priority is too improve his football team at every phrase of the game.

"We can't worry about the University of Miami.We need to take care of ourselves. We have some issues on offense, defense and special teams," Harris said. "Our main concern right now is how we can might this a better football team."

3.) facing a star receiver; The Hurricanes will most likely have to wait up until gametime to find out if they will be facing Pittsburgh junior Antonio Bryant.

Bryant, last season's Biletnikoff Award winner, sprained his left ankle early in the Panther's season-opener against East Tennessee State and was held out of the contest against South Florida. Whether Bryant suits up or not against UM is "still in the air" according to Harris. Harris said that Bryant had practiced without discomfort Sunday night, but was in pain after the practice.

He was better for a while, then limped off pretty good after practice. Obviously, we'd like to have a healthy Antonio Bryant," Harris said.

Harris isn't kidding.

The former Miami Northwestern standout is without a doubt the main source of offense for Pittsburgh. The 6-2, 195-pounder had 68 receptions, 1,302 yards and 11 touchdown last season. Bryant had a nation's best 130.2 yards per game and his 1,302 receiving yards were a school and Big East conference single-season record.

Bryant, who wasn't heavily recruited in Florida, has tried throughout his career at Pitt to make the Hurricanes pay for letting him slip through the cracks. Coker admits to a recruiting mistake by the Hurricanes.

"Well yes it was probably a mistake letting Antonio get away because he could play for us or any school for that matter," Coker said. "There are always going to be so many great players in the South Florida that you can't possibly get them all."

Coker is expecting Bryant to play and has had the Hurricanes preparing accordingly.

"We fully expect him to play," said Coker. "I want to see Pittsburgh with their best players and fully healthy."Despite his struggles against Miami (4 receptions, 31 yards last season), Coker stills knows what Bryant means to the Panthers.

Although, Bryant hasn't played well against Miami in the past, Coker doesn't think they have gone to great lengths to stop him.

"I don't think we've had that much success against him. I think it's more that he hasn't played well against us," Coker said.

Bryant isn't the only one.

The Panthers have managed just nine victories all-time in 28 meetings against the Hurricanes. Miami, who has defeated Pitt in 11 of the last 12 meetings, has outscored the Panthers 106-20 since 1998. Pitt did defeat Miami 21-17 during the 1997 season. The Panthers trailed 13-7 at the half of last year's contest in the Orange Bowl before falling apart in the third quarter.

Harris, a first-year coach the last time Pitt beat Miami, hasn't bothered with bringing up the past to his team. Playing the No. 1 team in the country should be enough motivation for his players.

"We've spoken very little about it," Harris said. "Most of the guys here now weren't around in 1997. Bottom line is weren't trying to measure ourselves against a great football team."

Pittsburgh's apparent lack of a running game (Raymond Kirkley 116 yards in 2 games ) will pin the duties of moving the offense against a ferocious Miami defense on the right arm of senior quarterback David Priestley.

Although his numbers are modest through two games (488 yards, 4 TD passes), Priestley has spread the ball around without the services of Bryant. Junior receiver Lamar Slade has been a reliable option with a team-leading 12 receptions. Senior R. J. English, along with Yogi Roth and Kirkland, have 10 receptions.

After blanking East Tennessee State 31-0, the Panthers defense looked sloppy in the shocker against USF. Junior linebacker Gerald Hayes leads the team in tackles with 23. Defensive back Ramon Walker has 22 tackles. Not a good indication when a defensive back is at the top of the list in leading tacklers and the Hurricanes offense coming to town.

Despite, the Panthers defensive troubles Coker expects a solid performance by Pittsburgh.

"They've been a great challenge for us in the past," Coker said. "We have a great amount of respect for them."

The Hurricanes have scored 94 points in two games and show little signs of slowing down. Junior quarterback Ken Dorsey has passed for 659 yards with five touchdown passes. All-America tight end Jeremy Shockey leads the team with 11 receptions and 163 yards. Shockey also has a team-high two touchdown receptions.

Miami has been equally effective on the ground led by 215 rushing yards by Clinton Portis. Portis has compiled a 6.9 yards per carry average in 31 rushes. Willis McGahee has 133 yards and freshman Frank Gore has 95 yards.

"We have to go into their place and that is always tough no matter who you play," Coker said.

The Hurricanes will be looking to extend a 12-game winning streak overall and a 11-game winning streak in the Big East.

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