Jacory Harris has started 17 career games in his third year with the Hurricanes, with a career record of 11-6. The Ohio State game--mainly Harris' four interceptions--is representative of the type of quarterback he can be. Harris likes to take chances with the football. Unfortunately for him, the Ohio State secondary was in position to make plays on him.
Harris is more of a traditional drop-back style of quarterback that they haven't seen this year, as opposed to the spread quarterbacks they typically face. Much like the spread quarterbacks Pitt has seen against Utah and New Hampshire, Harris can hurt you if you don't get to him in time, but the growing sentiment in the Pitt locker room is that Harris might be the most willing of any quarterback they face this year, to take the chances on making big plays. Some he makes, some he misses, as proven by the four picks at Ohio State.
"If he gets a hot hand, he's plenty strong and accurate enough," head coach Dave Wannstedt said of Harris. "I think he's got some confidence. You'll see him make some throws that NFL quarterbacks make. Then, the next time, he'll come back and try to force that same throw, without the same result."
Miami has four running backs that have taken carries this season, but the primary runners are Damien Berry and redshirt freshman Lamar Miller. Berry leads the way with 142 yards on 22 carries through two games, while Miller has 73 yards on 14 carries. The way Miami utilizes both backs might not look the way that Pitt has utilized Dion Lewis and Ray Graham in the past, but Wannstedt feels their run game can be a factor.
Though Berry might not be the every-down back that Lewis has been for Pitt, Wannstedt expects to see a heavy dose of Berry in this game.
"They're going to come out and run the ball," Wannstedt said. "I know. I can feel it. We've got to do a good job, first down, stopping the run."
The go-to guy in the Miami offense is Leonard Hankerson, who at 6-3, 205, gives Harris a big target. He has made 13 of Miami's 41 receptions so far this season, and he joins Pitt's Jon Baldwin as a Biletnikoff candidate.
"I think their receivers are great," safety Jared Holley said. "They have a lot of speed, and Hankerson is a bigger body. He comes down with a lot of (receptions). It'll be a nice little challenge for us this Thursday."
Joining Hankerson is Travis Benjamin, Aldarius Johnson and LaRon Byrd. Byrd, a redshirt freshman, is second on the team with six receptions this season. Johnson and Benjamin each have four catches on the season. Though Pitt's passing game focuses on just three receivers--Baldwin, Mike Shanahan and Cameron Saddler--Pitt's passing game is a bit more distributed.
Though not deep, Wannstedt and defensive line coach Tony Wise, have talked about how physical Miami's offensive line is. Anchoring the line is 6-7 left tackle, Orlando Franklin. He will matchup with Brandon Lindsey, making his second start in place of Greg Romeus.
"In the run game, going up against a big 6-6, 6-7, 300-pound tackle, I have to learn how to use my speed, and my leverage, more than anything." Lindsey said.
This matchup will be under close watch, as Pitt will be without Romeus for a second game in a row, and we could possibly see the debut of heralded freshman T.J. Clemmings at some point. Miami has offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, the top offensive lineman in the 2010 recruiting class. Henderson is currently a backup at right tackle.
"They're big," defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said of Miami's offensive line. "That's the first thing I noticed. They're all 6-4, 6-5, 300. I believe their left tackle is 6-8, 320. They're big and they move pretty well, so we just have to beat them with technique. That's all it comes down to--getting low, getting off the ball, using our hands."
Miami has given up just three sacks in 65 passing attempts this season.
DEFENSIVE LINE This week, Wannstedt has mentioned Miami using anywhere from eight to ten different defensive linemen. Just like Pitt's defensive philosophy, they like to rotate their guys, and there is plenty of talent and speed all over the place.
"Very similar, very very similar (to Pitt)," offensive line coach Tony Wise said. "Coverage, the lack of blitzing. They come after you with the four down guys. They rotate the four down guys all the time. It's similar to us. You may see a guy having seven plays, then you might have another guy gets five, and another guy gets three, so it's very similar that way.
At defensive end, is 6-4, 285-pound Allen Bailey. While we're about to see a 290-pound defensive end for Pitt in Clemmings, perhaps Bailey will give Pitt fans a preview of what Clemmings could become. Bailey has 1.5 tackles for a loss this season, and tied for the team-lead in tackles against Ohio State. Last year, he led the Hurricanes in both tackles for loss (11) and sacks (7). Bailey has also played at defensive tackle in his career.
Josh Holmes and Marcus Forston are at the tackle positions, with Olivier Vernon and Adewale Ojomo also helping out at defensive end. Just to prove Miami's depth, Vernon and Ojomo are co-starters at right defensive end. Vernon, a sophomore, leads the team with 3.5 sacks, while Ojomo is second on the team with two.
We also heard more than once this past week, how Miami's defense was similar to Pitt's in that there's little to no blitzing. Of Miami's nine sacks this season, all nine have come from the defensive line.
"It's more of like us, they don't blitz too much," left tackle Jason Pinkston said. "They're pretty much like us. Their front four gets the pressure. The linebackers are behind them to support them. They look a lot like us."
Miami has a shutdown corner in Brandon Harris, and a ball-hawking strong safety in Ray-Ray Armstrong. Vaughn Telemaque is at free safety, with senior DeMarcus Van Dyke at the other corner spot.
Against Utah, Jon Baldwin saw a lot of man-to-man coverage. Against New Hampshire, he was double and sometimes triple-teamed. Harris may give him his toughest test yet, who allows Miami to go more man-to-man. Van Dyke has the team's lone interception on the season. Further proving that both defenses are similar, Jared Holley has both of Pitt's interceptions so far this season.
"Speed, they're very fast," Cameron Saddler said of Miami's secondary. "They get away with a lot of things, because they're so fast. They can be physical. They can take a lot more chances because they're that much more athletic. This is a different type of animal."