Pittsburgh Preview

Is it me or does the Penn State game feels like months ago? Rutgers weekend and our 61 points in 60 minutes? I have almost forgotten that rainy Orange Bowl afternoon on September 8th. What I can't block out of my mind is the evil face that terrorism has recently shown.

Normal life will never resume – I am learning to accept that. But for Miami fans, we will take a giant step towards the "new" normal this Thursday evening when the Canes take the field for the first time in 19 days.

As trivial as it sounds, I need to see the Canes play already. My appetite was whet for some Husky meat a few weeks back. When the Twin Towers crumbled, the last thing on my mind was a game. Seeing so much empty, Canes-free college football action this past weekend, even a Noles' loss wasn't enough to complete my Saturday. Unless I am watching our "Coral Gables Wrecking Crew" demolishing teams on either Orange Bowl turf or on the road, my autumn weekends are hollow.

This Thursday evening the Pittsburgh Panthers will be on the receiving end of a pent up bunch of Hurricanes. Aggression that should have been used on Washington has been bottled and stored, but there will be enough left over for Walt Harris' kitties. Last time the Canes and Panthers met up in Pittsburgh for a Thursday game, the outcome was less than favorable for Miami fans. While only a few redshirt freshmen from the 1997 team remain on this year's squad, the memory of falling to a lowly Pittsburgh bunch 21-17 on national TV still dwells in Cane fans' and players' memories from coast to coast.

The football world will be watching this week. They have all seen the #1 ranking and noticed that Miami leapfrogged the Gators after the Penn State thrashing. Few saw the Rutgers rout, but many saw the score. Now the college football community outside Coral Gables wants to know if Miami is really that good. This is a chance to make a statement that everyone will hear.

A possible pitfall of the 2001 season was supposed to be this Thursday at Heinz Field. Preseason publications nationwide were singing the praises of this current Panthers squad fresh off a 7-4 season in 2000 and returning 19 starters. Would the Canes look past them? Could Antonio Bryant a few of the other South Florida natives on Pittsburgh's roster rise to the occasion and stun strong and mighty Miami? Seems that many out there would like a repeat of that 1997 upset.

No chance in hell that happens.

Emotions will be running wild this Thursday much like they did in Beaver Stadium a few weeks back, but as the two teams settle, the Panthers will run out of gas. Whether David Priestley or sophomore Rod Rutherford handles quarterbacking duties, getting the ball to head case Antonio Bryant will be a mission. Last year's other standout receiver Latif Grim is long gone and the Panthers and senior R.J. English is hardly a threat. Ground duties have been turned over to freshman Raymond Kirkley who has amassed 99 rushing yards on the season after games against lowly East Tennessee State and South Florida. With a double team in effect on Bryant – if he is even healthy enough to suit up – and Kirkley's inexperience, the Panthers' offense is in for a long evening against a stout Miami defense.

With the exception of a new nose tackle, Pittsburgh returns everyone on defense. This might mean more against an average opponent, but against the Canes this is a statistic that only looks good on paper. Loaded at receiver, three deep at running back and boasting the best o-line around, the Miami offense will feast on Pittsburgh – barring too many boneheaded penalties. The Canes must find a way to tighten their game and avoid shooting themselves in the foot. Offensive penalties have been the Achilles' heel of the young 2001 season. Slowly but surely, it will be corrected. With a 19-day hiatus, Cane fans should expect a little early sloppy play Thursday evening.

Before the 2001 season kicked off this game had the makings of a potential classic. Was Miami as good as the preseason rags indicated? Could Pittsburgh climb out of the middle ranks of BIG EAST and become a top team in the conference? While the Canes have proven they have the firepower to compete with any team on any given Saturday, the Panthers find themselves conference bottom dwellers yet again. Falling to the USF Bulls – a university that didn't field a team until 1997 and was previously 1-6 against I-A opponents – truly marred this Pittsburgh team.

To get that bitter Bulls taste out of their mouths they needed a pushover this weekend. Temple or Rutgers would be welcome opponents to prove that the South Florida stunner was merely a fluke. Instead, they get the top ranked team in the nation, out to prove a point of its own. Ouch. If Pittsburgh was in the gutter after the USF game, this Thursday evening they'll be neck deep in a quagmire. With all eyes on Miami, the Canes will put on a clinic in the state of Pennsylvania for the second time this month.

Miami won't play the mistake-free game that fans are hoping for, but the talent will again shine and Pittsburgh will be even further exposed as the frauds they are. Canes will pick up steam as the game progresses and Miami wins in a rout.

Canes 41 Panthers 10

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