Miami football looks for second straight ranked win at hostile Heinz Field against No. 17 Pittsburgh

Freshman running back Jaylan Knighton throws his hands up in celebration during Miami's 31-30 win over NC State on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Freshman running back Jaylan Knighton throws his hands up in celebration during Miami's 31-30 win over NC State on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium. Photo credit: Josh Halper

After claiming their first win over a Top 25 opponent in over 300 days, there is no rest for Manny Diaz’s Miami Hurricanes, who now head to the Keystone State for another ranked matchup against the No. 17 Pittsburgh Panthers.

Last week was a huge relief for the Hurricanes after they jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first half and held on for a 31-30 upset over the No. 18 North Carolina State Wolfpack. UM honored their 2001 championship-winning team at halftime and gave a second half performance in their honor, snapping a two-game losing streak for their first Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) win of the year.

“It’s been difficult with the things we’ve been through in the first six games,” Diaz said following Saturday’s win. “I thought we practiced well all week. I thought we practiced like a team that hadn’t come off two really difficult losses and I felt like we were ready to compete.”

While the defense stepped up in the end, it was the offense that had Hurricanes fans raving on Saturday night. In his fourth start for Miami, second-year freshman Tyler Van Dyke was phenomenal against one of the top defenses in the ACC.

A week removed from a three-interception game at the University of North Carolina, Van Dyke was 25-for-33 on passing attempts and threw for 325 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. The Connecticut native hit on numerous big-time throws, including a 53-yard touchdown strike to running back Jaylan Knighton in the second quarter, then connected on a game-long 60-yard bomb to wide receiver Charleston Rambo to open up the third quarter.

“I put a lot of extra work in, watching extra film after practice and after my classes,” Van Dyke said in his post-game press conference on Saturday. “I feel like I’m really taking charge of the offense, more than I have been the past couple of weeks. Our team is a confident team and there is a lot of fight in each and every guy.”

The Hurricanes will need their offense to shine early and often this weekend. Going into the season, most believed that the best opposing quarterback Miami would face was either Heisman favorite Sam Howell at UNC or former five-star recruit Bryce Young at Alabama. Few, if any at all, would have expected the season that Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is having.

“When you see someone put 464 yards of offense on Clemson’s defense, that stands out,” Diaz said during Monday’s press conference. “Kenny Pickett may be the best quarterback in the country right now. It’s another great challenge for us.”

In his fourth year of starting for the Panthers, Pickett is giving himself a case at not just the Heisman Trophy, but a chance to play on Sundays. In just seven games this season, the fifth-year senior has already broken his career-high in touchdown passes with 23. He is averaging just under 320 passing yards per game with a career-best 68.9 completion percentage and has thrown just one interception.

The Panthers are coming off a 27-17 statement win over the Clemson Tigers last Saturday. It was Pitt’s fourth straight win and Clemson’s largest ACC loss since 2014. Impressively, Pittsburgh’s defense held Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei to under 130 yards passing, zero passing TDs and forced him into two interceptions, including a pick-six by junior linebacker SirVocea Dennis in the third quarter.

The atmosphere at Heinz Field was an intimidating wall of noise that was too much for Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s Tigers to handle. The listed attendance for Saturday’s win was 60,594, the biggest Panthers home crowd in over a decade.

The Hurricanes have won five of the last contests against Pittsburgh, including the last three games in the series. The one loss is one that Canes fans still remember disdainfully, a heartbreaking 24-14 defeat at Heinz Field in the final game of the 2017 season. The Hurricanes were ranked No. 2 in the nation and seemed to be a lock for a College Football Playoff appearance, but the loss to a four-win Panthers team spoiled those chances.

That upset win was Kenny Pickett’s first career start as Panthers quarterback. This weekend’s contest will be his 44th start for Pitt.

With the tables flipped, now it could be the Hurricanes’ turn to play spoiler. With an upstart quarterback of their own and a revitalized locker room, who says Miami can’t deliver a body blow of their own to another ranked opponent?

The Hurricanes and Panthers will kick off from Heinz Stadium at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30. The game will be carried on television by ACC Network.