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Pitt’s challenge: Contain Miami’s Johnson, Dorsett

Tribune-Review
| Friday, November 28, 2014 8:54 p.m
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Matt Rotheram (74) and Jaymar Parrish block for running back Chris James against Syracuse on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, at Heinz Field.
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Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24) plays in the NCAA football game against Georgia Tech, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Miami running back Duke Johnson (8) gets by Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown (9)during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

When Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House placed the film of last year’s Miami game into the video machine, something was missing.

Two things, actually.

Miami running back Duke Johnson and receiver Phillip Dorsett were nonfactors at frigid Heinz Field. Johnson had a fractured ankle and didn’t play. A knee injury limited Dorsett to returning one kickoff.

Miami won 41-31 by reaching further into its deep reserve of playmakers. Receiver Stacey Coley scored on three plays totaling 139 yards.

This season, with Pitt (5-6, 3-4 ACC) needing a victory Saturday night at Sun Life Stadium to become bowl eligible, Johnson and Dorsett are healthy and able.

Johnson is second in the conference in rushing (1,431 yards) and second all-time at Miami (3,298). If he doesn’t pass Pitt’s James Conner (1,600) for the ACC rushing title, he appears a lock to become Miami’s all-time leader. He is only 33 yards behind Ottis Anderson.

Dorsett leads the ACC and is threatening to set the all-time conference record in yards per catch. He averages 27.8 yards in that category (26 receptions, 723 yards, eight touchdowns), 2.3 yards per catch ahead of N.C. State’s Owen Spencer, who set the ACC record in 2009.

All those numbers might have made House dizzy while he tried to devise schemes to slow down the Hurricanes.

“It’s probably the most gifted offense we faced this year,” House said. “(Johnson) is really impressive. The tight end (Clive Walford, 40 catches, seven touchdowns) is really impressive. (Dorsett’s) really impressive, and the quarterback (freshman Brad Kaaya) is getting better.”

Virginia counteracted Miami’s speed by slugging it out with the Hurricanes in a 30-13 victory at home.

“They just dominated the line of scrimmage,” House said of the Cavaliers’ defense.

Pitt might have trouble finding a similar level of dominance in front of a national, prime-time audience. But senior safety Ray Vinopal said he and his teammates need to show respect, not fear.

“They are just college kids like we are,” he said. “They practice and go to school just like we do. We have to make sure all the young guys recognize that before we step on the field.

“We have to go out there and not only execute but (also) show we are not afraid. We are there to play, and we believe we can compete.

“In a sport, any team that believes it can compete, believes it can win, is dangerous.”

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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