Miami vs. Pitt for bowl eligibility: ‘It has to mean more to us than it does to them’

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One last chance to leave Hard Rock Stadium fired up.

One more opportunity to go out a winner.

Four more quarters for seniors to savor — and leave with a parting bowl-game gift.

The Miami Hurricanes (5-6, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) meet the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-4, 4-3) in the regular-season finale at 8 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network) with a winning season and bowl eligibility on the line.

A loss and they’ll finish 5-7 for the first time since 2007, when the Canes lost their regular-season finale at Boston College and failed to qualify for a bowl for the first time in 10 years.

A win and they’ll even their record and qualify for the postseason, which most players (except maybe the ones about to enter the transfer portal) badly want — especially on senior day.

“You only have one senior year, right?” UM coach Mario Cristobal said. “Well, you have two. You have one in high school and you have one in college. And in college, not always guaranteed. Because typically, you have teams that have juniors that come out early.

‘Great memory’

“But for a lot of guys, it’s your last collegiate home game with the opportunity to play to extend our season, so there’s a lot of value to this game. It means a ton. Everyone that’s ever played the game remembers their last home game. We want to make sure we do everything possible to make it a great memory.’’

It won’t be easy.

“It’s always been a battle against Pitt ever since I’ve been here,’’ senior tight end Will Mallory said. “Always been close games, tough games. It has to mean more to us than it does to them because this is going to keep our season going.”

Senior offensive tackle DJ Scaife Jr. said this week that he could have gone anywhere when he was recruited out of Miami Southridge High. “But coming here and letting my family see me every weekend felt good putting on for my city. It’s going to be pretty emotional for me coming out this Saturday knowing it’s my last one at Hard Rock.”

Emotional and likely grueling.

Not only have the 6 1/2-point underdog Hurricanes lost their past four games at Hard Rock, the Panthers want to extend a three-game winning streak.

‘Quarterback issues’

“They’ve got a lot of great football players running around,’’ Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Big question mark would be who the quarterback is. Obviously we know Tyler Van Dyke is a tremendous quarterback. Jacurri Brown is a guy who started the last couple weeks. There are quarterbacks in and out. So they have had some quarterback issues.’’

Indeed, they have. Cristobal said on Monday that Van Dyke, the usual starter and 2021 ACC Rookie of the Year, was further along in his recovery of a shoulder injury sustained Oct. 22, and that there was “a great chance” he’d be back for Pittsburgh. If Van Dyke isn’t ready, then true freshman Brown would likely start for the third week in a row.

Either one would be tested by one of the top defenses in the nation. The Panthers are No. 3 nationally in team sacks (averaging 3.45 a game), eighth in rushing defense (94.5 rushing yards allowed a game) and 16th in total defense (313.7).

Four Pittsburgh players earned ACC Player of the Week honors on Monday, including the nation’s No. 1 scorer and Doak Walker Award semifinalist Israel Abanikanda, a 5-11, 215-pound junior running back. Abanikanda has reached the 100-yard rushing mark in eight of 11 games and averages 11.6 points a game. He leads the nation in touchdowns (19), is second in all-purpose yards (168.6 yards a game) and rushing touchdowns (18), and sixth in rushing-yards-per-game (132).

“Very talented, strong runner,’’ Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. “Great vision. They feed him. One of the marks of a great running back, if you want to find where the real ones are, look at how many times they feed the ball to him.

“He is a talented player.’’


The ESPN College Football Power Index gives the Hurricanes a 44.6 percent chance to win Saturday.

The Hurricanes’ hearts say differently. They don’t want the season to come to an abrupt end.

“Results on the field don’t speak to the kind of love you have in the locker room for people,’’ senior long snapper Clay James said. “Those aren’t really necessarily correlated. I can’t tell you how much I love this football team. Yeah, I would love an extra game and an extra month just to be with these guys. Hopefully we can go out the right way.”

Two more UM defensive backs announced their intentions to enter the transfer portal. On Wednesday it was third-year redshirt freshman Jalen Harrell, a Champagnat Catholic grad. On Thanksgiving it was third-year redshirt freshman Keshawn Washington, a Homestead South Dade grad.

They join the following players who previously announced: defensive back Gil Frierson, running back Thad Franklin, defensive lineman Allan Haye Jr. and defensive lineman Elijah Roberts.