Pitt's pass rush to test Miami's beleaguered offensive line
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) There are 129 teams in major college football, and this season Pitt has been giving up more passing yards per game than all but two of them.
That's a really good sign for Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya.
That is, if Kaaya can stay upright long enough to throw the ball.
When Miami was 4-0, Kaaya had been sacked a total of two times. Miami is 0-4 since, and Kaaya has been sacked a total of 18 times in those defeats - a stat that doesn't even take into account some other plays where he's simply been clobbered behind a very shaky offensive line of late.
Now Pitt is set to visit on Saturday with a porous secondary but one of the game's elite pass rushers in Ejuan Price, who has nine sacks in eight games this season and a resume that suggests he's a serious candidate for year-end conference and national awards.
''Any good pass rushing team is going to get excited about that and be able to tee off on that,'' Miami coach Mark Richt said. ''We've just got to do a better job on first and second downs and then try to start faster where we don't feel like we're playing from behind.''
This much seems certain: Miami is going to have to score some points.
Pitt has put up at least 28 points in all eight of its games this season, and at least 36 in each of the last seven. Problem for the Panthers there is, they've also given up at least 31 in six of their last seven games.
Some other things to know going into the game between Pitt (5-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Miami (4-4, 1-3):
BEST BEHAVIOR?: Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi earned himself a $5,000 fine for calling out what he viewed as questionable officiating in last week's loss to Virginia Tech, and his sideline histrionics trended on social media. He felt his defensive backs weren't being given a fair shake and did what he could to stick up for them. ''I know I don't need to get out of control, but sometimes you do. It's part of the game,'' Narduzzi said.
SLIDING MIAMI: Miami hasn't lost five straight games in a season since 1977, and a loss Saturday would make this the longest slide by the Hurricanes since they dropped eight straight from 1977-78 (last six of 1977, first two of 1978).
CONNER CRUISING: Pitt running back James Conner ran for a season-high 141 yards and three touchdowns against the Hokies. His 12 touchdowns are second in the ACC behind Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Conner's remarkable comeback from a battle with cancer seems to be gaining speed. He also moved into second-place on Pitt's all-time rushing list, with 3,313 yards heading to Miami - though that's only about halfway to the school record of 6,526 by 1976 Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett. ''I thought I did something special,'' Conner mused.
KAAYA WATCH: Kaaya started the season sixth on Miami's all-time list in pass attempts, seventh in completions and ninth in touchdowns. He's now third in all three of those categories, as well as completion percentage (he was fourth entering 2016 in that department).
COLD, FOR MIAMI: They call this a cold front in South Florida. Seriously. The high on Saturday is only expected to reach the mid-70s, which means it could be the coolest weather for a Miami home game since Pitt's last visit in 2014. The temperature at kickoff for that game was only 68 degrees; it's topped 81 at kickoff for every Miami home contest since.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed.
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