For the First Time This Season, I Am Concerned About a Pitt Matchup on Paper

Ken Ruinard/USA Today Network

Since the Panthers showed their offensive dominance, while also exposing their one defensive weakness, against Tennessee in the second game of the season, I have been confident in Pitt’s matchups on paper heading into each game this season.  I know we lost to WMU, but on paper, the Panthers were a better team.  Even the Clemson game last weekend, a team with a dominant defense but the inability to score points, was a good matchup for Pitt.  

Miami, the Panthers opponent this Saturday, is not a good matchup for Pitt.  Although Miami is not having a great year, they possess particular talents that play to Panther weaknesses, or really their only weakness to this point.  When assessing a dream matchup for Pitt this season I am looking for a team that runs the ball better than they pass, has a below average quarterback, and limited receivers.  At this point, I am not even considering the opponent’s defense because Mark Whipple, Kenny Pickett, and the rest of the offense have shown the ability to beat all of them.

Freshman Phenom

Current Miami starting quarterback, freshman Tyler Van Dyke, replaced original Hurricane starter D’eriq King after King suffered a right shoulder injury.  Similar to when Joe Milton was knocked out of the Pitt game to be replaced by Hendon Hooker, Van Dyke is looking like the correct pick to start anyway. 

After a shaky couple of games, including losses to both Virginia and North Carolina, Van Dyke had a career game against 18th-ranked NC State last weekend.  Van Dyke threw for 325 yards and four touchdowns, while committing no turnovers.  It led to a 31-30 Miami victory over the Wolfpack in a stunning upset.  Van Dyke's ability to pass effectively has me very worried.

Shaky Panther Secondary

If there is anything the eye test has shown me about the Pitt Panthers defense, it is that their biggest weakness is still absolutely their secondary.  Box score surfers won’t know that in games against UMass, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Clemson, the opposing receivers had huge drops and the opposing quarterbacks had some major overthrows.  In the Clemson game last weekend there were several wide-open receivers that were in enough open space for sure touchdowns, and they dropped the ball.  That is not a credit to the Panther secondary but an indictment of our past opponents and their skill players.

I do not see this happening as much against Miami.  Miami has an emerging quarterback in Van Dyke good enough to throw for four touchdowns against NC State, the 2nd best defense in the ACC and one of the best defenses in the country.  The Hurricanes also have one of the best receivers the Panthers will face all season in Charleston Rambo.  Charleston Rambo has 549 receiving yards which is good for top 10 in the ACC.  The Panthers, to this point, have only faced one receiver with more receiving yards and that is Skyy Moore from Western Michigan, who torched the Panthers for 124 yards and a touchdown in their matchup a few weeks ago. 

Letdown Game

Now, some would say that Miami is due for a letdown game.  When a team amps up to play a ranked team and they succeed, it can be tough to get back up for the next one.  However, with the Panthers atop the Coastal division, Pitt will receive every team’s best effort this season.  Also, the Panthers are due for a letdown game just as much as the Hurricanes are.  The buzz around the Pitt/Clemson matchup was the highest I have ever experienced in my 20+ years as a Pitt fan.  I have not felt that same buzz around this Saturday’s game, again at home, and that worries me as well.  We, as fans, still need to pack Heinz Field, but the tailgate talk and those looking for tickets is not nearly at the height it was last weekend.

For all of these reasons, I am concerned about this matchup for Pitt.  While I still expect Pitt to put up a ton of points, the secondary will need to step up for this game in a way they haven't all season.  We have seen that Pitt can still lose games when they score 40+ points.  As much as the Panthers will need Kenny Pickett to add to his Heisman resume moving forward, they just as much need their defense to perform well to continue to stay undefeated in the conference.  One more completion by Clemson and that game could have been completely different in the first half.  Pitt needs to make sure that one big completion doesn’t happen Saturday while not depending on it being incomplete from another receiver drop or errant throw.