University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes brace for physical Pittsburgh in regular-season finale

UM quarterback Brad Kaaya sets up to pass against Pittsburgh at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
UM quarterback Brad Kaaya sets up to pass against Pittsburgh at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. adiaz@miamiherald.com

When the Miami Hurricanes run onto Heinz Field for their final regular-season game at noon Friday, they’ll have plenty to keep them occupied on both sides of the ball in what they expect to be their most physical matchup this season.

Here are a couple reasons why:

▪  A relentless receiver named Tyler Boyd, who has 3,238 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns in three seasons — and catches everything on the planet within a mile or two.

▪ An imposing defensive end named Ejuan Price, who had five sacks against Louisville last Saturday — more than any individual Miami defender has combined for in the past 11 games.

And you might as well include the entire Pittsburgh Panthers squad, which has exceeded all expectations after losing star running back and reigning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year James Conner to injury in the first half of the season opener.

Pitt (8-3, 6-1 ACC) is now two victories from its second 10-win season since 1982, when Dan Marino was the quarterback, and is guaranteed to finish no worse than second in the Coastal Divison.

“The O-line and D-line – if we both have good days, then the whole team will have a good day,’’ said UM defensive end Ufomba Kamalu. “Pack your lunch. It’s going to be a long day.’’

The Hurricanes (7-4, 4-3) intend to keep Pitt’s win total to single digits. They insist they will keep fighting until the final snap of 2015 – or 2016 should they land in Jacksonville’s Taxslayer Bowl on Jan. 2.

“It’s a battle for pride,’’ said offensive tackle/guard Kc McDermott. “We’re going to go out there and battle with everything we’ve got. We’re going to leave it all on the field, and then hopefully go to a great bowl and enjoy the bowl game.’’

Like the Panthers, the Hurricanes still have several bowl games eyeing them. An 8-4 regular-season finish is more attractive than 7-5, and would likely move UM up to a higher-regarded tier.

Either way, UM quarterback Brad Kaaya, who leads the ACC with 275.8 yards a game, reiterated this week that his teammates want to finish strong for the seniors and their coaches. He said the team has not “veered off’’ course this year like last.

“We’ve stayed close,’’ Kaaya said, adding that he was thankful this holiday for his “teammates and coaches. It’s all about them.

“You really see it through all the stuff we’ve been through. I think it’s even given us more motivation.”

Kaaya said he’d love to get to the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 26 at Yankee Stadium in New York City. A win Friday would help in that effort.

“New York would be awesome,’’ Kaaya said. “That would be great to be in New York for Christmas time. I’m sure other guys on the team want that as well. Right now we’ve just got to do our business on the field, of course, but New York would be a dream for us.’’

To have a shot at the dream, the Canes’ at-times struggling offensive line must find a way to thwart the Panthers’ elite pass rush. Pitt averages 3.36 sacks a game — first in the ACC and fifth nationally. Defensive end Price has an ACC-best 11.5 sacks.

Pitt is ranked 25th nationally in total defense and rushing defense.

“I know exactly who you’re talking about,’’ UM left tackle Trevor Darling said of Price. “We’re going to come to play. He’s a great player. He works very hard. We’re going to take care of business.’’

Likewise, cornerback Artie Burns said he’s excited to match up against Boyd. “One thing he’s got over most receivers, he plays with a lot of emotion, a lot of doggedness,’’ Burns said. “He runs fast and he’s explosive… Every matchup every week is a good look for me. Whoever it is, whatever their name is, I go out there and play my heart out.’’

Miami has won 16 of the past 18 games against Pittsburgh, including on the road in 2013, when nearly two dozen Canes strutted onto Heinz Field bare-chested amid temperatures in the low 30s. UM won that game 41-31, then lost a night game 35-23 last season at home, with the temperature 68 at kickoff.

The forecast for Friday calls for temperatures in the low 60s — expected to be the warmest day before winter.

“As a team, you just can’t let it be a factor,’’ Kaaya said of the weather before it was forecast to be mild.

Miami receiver Stacy Coley, a freshman two years ago, scored three touchdowns at Pitt in the first half. He couldn’t stand the cold, but is happy to be celebrating Thanksgiving again with his teammates.

“It’s fun being with the other side of your family,’’ Coley said. “We just joke around a lot and are thankful for each other.’’

Susan Miller Degnan: 305-376-3366, @smillerdegnan

Friday: Miami at Pittsburgh

Kickoff: Noon; Heinz Field, Pittsburgh.

TV/radio: ESPN2; WQAM 560; WURN 1020 (Spanish); WVUM 90.5 FM.

Favorite: Pittsburgh by 6 1/2.

Records: Miami 7-4 (4-3 ACC); Pittsburgh 8-3 (6-1 ACC).

Series: Miami leads 23-10-1.

Miami injuries: Out — LB Raphael Kirby (knee); LB Marques Gayot (neck); LB Darrion Owens (knee); RB Gus Edwards (foot).

Pittsburgh injuries: Out — DL Mark Scarpinato (upper body); OL Alex Paulina (shoulder); RB James Conner (knee); RB Rachid Ibrahim (achilles); OL Jaryd Jones-Smith (knee).

PROBABLE UM STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

15

Brad Kaaya

So.

DE

9

Chad Thomas

So.

RB

2

Joe Yearby

So.

NT

93

Calvin Heurtelou

Sr.

FB

40

Gage Batten

Jr.

DT

92

Courtel Jenkins

So.

WR

6

Herb Waters

Sr.

LB

35

Trent Harris

So.

WR

11

Rashawn Scott

Sr.

LB

51

Juwon Young

So.

TE

5

Standish Dobard

Jr.

LB

5

Jermaine Grace

Jr.

LT

73

Trevor Darling

So.

LB

8

A. Muhammad

So.

LG

52

Kc McDermott

So.

CB

3

Tracy Howard

Sr.

C

68

Nick Linder

So.

CB

1

Artie Burns

Jr.

RG

50

Daniel Isidora

Jr.

S

25

Dallas Crawford

Sr.

RT

66

Sunny Odogwu

So.

S

2

Deon Bush

Sr.

PK

15

Michael Badgley

So.

P

16

Justin Vogel

Jr.

PROBABLE PITTSBURGH STARTERS

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

P

NO.

PLAYER

YR.

QB

4

Nate Peterman

Jr.

DE

92

Rori Blair

So.

TB

37

Qadree Ollison

Fr.

DT

91

Darryl Render

Sr.

FB

35

George Aston

Fr.

NT

95

K. M.-Smith

Sr.

TE

86

J.P. Holtz

Sr.

DE

5

Ejuan Price

Sr.

WR

19

Dontez Ford

Jr.

LB

3

Nicholas Grigsby

Sr.

WR

23

Tyler Boyd

Jr.

LB

47

Matt Galambos

Jr.

LT

69

A. Bisnowaty

Jr.

LB

30

Mike Caprara

Jr.

LG

53

Dorian Johnson

Jr.

CB

6

Lafayette Pitts

Sr.

C

57

Artie Rowell

Sr.

CB

14

Avonte Maddox

So.

RG

63

Alex Officer

So.

FS

2

Terrish Webb

Jr.

RT

70

Brian O’Neill

Fr.

SS

9

Jordan Whitehead

Fr.

PK

12

Chris Blewitt

Jr.

P

18

Ryan Winslow

So.

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