Pitt prepares for speedy Miami with bowl eligibility on the line | TribLIVE.com
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Jerry Dipaola
Pitt's Jason Hendricks gets blocked by Miami's Ereck Flowers (74) as Tracy Howard runs for a first-quarter touchdown Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst said he watched only two plays of Miami’s 30-13 loss to Virginia.

“I wanted to enjoy the rest of the night,” he said.

Chryst saw enough of Miami on Sunday and Monday during extensive video review while he and his staff and players prepare for the biggest game of his three-year tenure at Pitt.

Pitt must defeat the Hurricanes (6-5, 3-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday to qualify for a bowl game. A loss will end Pitt’s worst season since the 5-7 finish in 2007.

Pitt (5-6, 3-4) was in this position two years ago — Chryst’s first season — taking a 4-6 record into the final two games. Pitt won twice, defeating Rutgers and South Florida in its final season in the Big East.

But Miami, even after its surprising loss to Virginia, presents a bigger threat to Pitt than those 2012 opponents. After all, the Hurricanes almost turned college football upside-down Nov. 15 when they nearly upset undefeated Florida State, losing 30-26 in the final three minutes.

Speed on both sides of the football sets Miami apart from many teams. Pitt discovered that last year when it allowed the Hurricanes to average 17.4 yards per reception in a 41-31 loss at Heinz Field. Wide receiver Stacy Coley, who is now a sophomore, recorded scoring plays of 32, 34 and 73 yards.

Miami won five national championships between 1983-2001 but has been nationally ranked only three times since joining the ACC in 2004.

Pitt senior safety Ray Vinopal still respects the Hurricanes.

“They play with confidence. They play with that swag,” he said.

Yet, he believes Pitt can counteract Miami’s play-making ability by playing smart.

“We have to come to play,” Vinopal said. “I think we can match up well, but it’s going to be depending on what (Pitt) team shows up.”

Pitt’s defense ranked fourth nationally at one point before the schedule toughened and the Panthers allowed 1,050 yards in three games before recovering against a weak Syracuse team Saturday.

“Obviously, you hear from the outside, ‘It was Syracuse. Their offense isn’t good,’ ” Vinopal said.

“But the bottom line is if guys are in their spot, they are in their spot. When guys aren’t in their spot, that’s when teams make plays. If the team shows up that has the guys in the spots they need to be in, we are going to be fine.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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