The Miami Hurricanes were back to winning on Saturday, but coaches and players got through the 31-19 win over Pittsburgh acknowledging there are areas where they still need to be sharper.
While coming up with the necessary stops defensively and hitting enough big plays to put together an overall better performance than the 42-17 loss at No. 1 Clemson the previous week, some of the deficiencies remain.
After the win, which put the No. 13 Hurricanes at 4-1 and 3-1 in the ACC, players didn’t take the approach of pounding their chest over everything they did right. They still kept an eye on what they need to shore up as 1-3 Virginia comes to Hard Rock Stadium next Saturday.
Quarterback D’Eriq King, while tossing four touchdown passes, threw two interceptions that allowed Pitt to get back into the game. The first one was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and the Panthers fooled King with the look they gave him on the second one, which was nearly returned for a touchdown by Cardinal Gibbons grad Marquis Williams, who got it down to the 1-yard line.
“The second pick, we got an out-breaking route to the sideline,” said King, who was 16 of 31 for 222 yards. “They were in a coverage that I thought they were. They were in Cover 3. I saw the corner bail, so I thought I had an easy out throw, and he just kind of guessed and guessed right. ... I just got to try to see that and go to my next read.”
Said Diaz: “I was standing there. I’m watching the call. I was saying, ‘Oh, he’s got the out.’ The corner did a nice job jumping into it. So, they made a good call on that play. D’Eriq made a good throw where really the ball should’ve gone based off of what he was seeing.”
The tipped passes for King, who is listed at 5-11, were problematic against Pitt’s tall, long defensive linemen.
“Yeah, and guys are going to tip,” said Diaz. “Pitt’s defensive ends are like 6-5, 6-6, 6-7. Those guys are like monsters back there and the one guy tipped the ball and the other guy caught it. Those are things that just happen.”
Added King: “They had really good D-ends — No. 91 [Patrick Jones II], 17 [Rashad Weaver] — both those guys are going to be playing on Sundays eventually. I do have to try to avoid that.”
King’s touchdowns could be more attributed to the scheme, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s play calls and him faking the run to get pass catchers wide open than King making difficult throws. His lean in to fake the quarterback draw drew in Panthers defenders twice to leave a man wide open over the middle — running back Cam’Ron Harris first and then tight end Will Mallory.
The Hurricanes took other deep shots against single coverage but didn’t connect on any contested attempts.
“We’re learning,” said Diaz, who added he did like King’s accuracy on the downfield passes, as well as competitiveness, not backing down when things went awry. “We’re getting in the mix of hitting these shots and Pitt dares you to do it and they’re going to have a guy on you.”
The touchdown to Michael Harley came on a different play, but he was similarly unaccounted for along the sideline. King admitted the Hurricanes ran that same play earlier, and King missed Harley, instead throwing to Jeremiah Payton.
“I’m always hard on myself. It’s a lot of room for improvement,” King said. “Just made some mistakes that I usually don’t. Just got to clean it up.”
The Hurricanes could also be more efficient in the run game. They stuck with it on Saturday, despite how tough Pitt is up front, and ended up with 109 rushing yards on 42 attempts, a 2.6 average. Continuing to pound the Panthers helped balance a time-of-possession advantage Pitt established, and the ground game opened up a bit on UM’s seven-minute fourth-quarter drive that sealed the victory.
Redshirt senior defensive end Quincy Roche, in what Diaz called his best game as a Hurricane since transferring from Temple, anchored a defense that held Pitt under a yard per rushing attempt, kept the Panthers to a field goal on four separate trips to the red zone and had them 3 for 17 on third downs, 0 for 2 on fourth downs.
Even he was talking about where he can improve after he had seven tackles, four for loss, half a sack and a key forced fumble and recovery.
“It was my best game as far as the run is concerned, but I still got to clean it up pass rushing,” Roche said. “I got to pass rush better, win some of those on-on-one matchups. And I think that’s where I can improve coming out of this game.”
The defense should remain fired up heading into Virginia week. It hadn’t allowed a touchdown against Pitt in the last two meetings — only field goals — and that streak was snapped on a one-play, 1-yard drive because an interception set the Panthers up a yard away from the end zone.
“Everyone came in with this goal of not wanting to give up a touchdown at all so that was our mindset coming into this game,” said sophomore cornerback Te’Cory Couch, who in increased reps had three pass breakups on Saturday.
Couch is one of several upstart youngsters defensively making major contributions for Miami. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jared Harrison-Hunte got a huge third-down strip-sack in the red zone that Pitt was fortunate to recover. He leads the team with three sacks through five games and is coming into his own as a converted basketball player in high school at Christ the King High in Queens, N.Y.
“In basketball, we don’t really use our hands like that, how we’re using them in football, so I’m more of like a feet guy, like footwork and everything,” Harrison-Hunte said. “Incorporating my hands into [my play] and using my feet, it’s something new. I have to get used to that, but it’s starting to work now.”
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