The Miami Hurricanes' recent three-game losing skid was like an open wound, and many wondered if the 'Canes would bleed out.
Losses to rivals Florida State and Virginia Tech, followed by being dominated in the fourth quarter by an upstart Duke team, left Miami in a precarious situation with two games remaining.
Al Golden's team responded with a win over Virginia, but a Friday afternoon clash at Pittsburgh awaits the Hurricanes.
But first, despite the final score showing a 45-26 Hurricanes' win over the Cavaliers on Saturday, it is important to recognize Miami failed to put together a great offensive performance.
Stephen Morris threw for 214 yards, but Stacy Coley turned a screen pass 62 yards into a touchdown. Other than that throw, Morris finished the day 12-of-25 for 152 yards, tossing one other score and an interception.
While those numbers are not great, consider that the completions, attempts and yardage statistics are exact replicas of Morris' performance against a vaunted Florida defense.
But it was Virginia.
Allen Hurns caught six passes for 126 yards and a touchdown, and Coley tallied four more receptions for 19 yards. However, the senior and true freshman were the only two Miami receivers to log a catch.
Filling in for the injured Duke Johnson, sophomore Dallas Crawford carried the ball 16 times for 55 yards, scored twice and caught two passes for seven yards. Behind him, Eduardo Clements and Gus Edwards combined for seven attempts and 36 yards.
The 'Canes defense essentially scored three touchdowns, considering Ladarius Gunter returned an interception 81 yards to the Virginia 3-yard line. Tracy Howard earned a pick-six on the game's first offensive play, and David Gilbert picked up a fumble and rumbled 72 yards into the end zone.
A common mantra states, "the best offense is a good defense," but a semblance of offensive productivity is rather important, too.
Ultimately, Morris and his cohorts have one final regular-season contest against Pittsburgh to correct their struggles.
But recent history is not on their side.
Save for early games against Florida State and Duke, the Panthers defense has surrendered more than 360 yards just once in the last seven games. What's more, without Duke Johnson, Miami only eclipsed that mark against the Blue Devils.
Pitt is stingy against the run, allowing 138, 149 and 148 yards in its last three games. During the same span, the Hurricanes have gained 28, 186 and 90.
Senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald was just named Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, so the Panthers have an elite run stopper.
According to the University of Pittsburgh's official athletic site, Donald "collected nine tackles (eight solo), 3.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. He made the game’s decisive play—blocking an extra-point kick—as the Panthers edged the host (Syracuse) Orange by the slimmest of margins."
Crawford, Clements and Edwards better bring their A-game, because Miami's running backs and offensive line will be tested on Friday.
Pitt allows a handful of long plays from scrimmage each game, and Miami offensive coordinator James Coley is not afraid—perhaps too eager at times—to call deep passes.
The 'Canes have tallied 31 passes of 30-plus yards, ranking third in the nation, trailing only Baylor and Texas A&M. Conversely, the Panthers are liable to give up a couple long throws each game, so expect Morris to launch a few downfield.
Recently, Miami has had success with quick screen passes.
Stacy Coley (vs. Virginia Tech and Virginia) and Herb Waters (vs. Duke) have each taken quick throws to the house, gaining at least 50 yards after the catch. Pitt must be prepared for screens to both Coley and Waters, but that extra focus effectively opens deep throws.
Once Morris establishes a quick passing game, faking a screen one way may cause the Panthers' safeties to bite and vacate their area. Then, whether it is Coley, Waters or Allen Hurns streaking down the opposite sideline, Morris has an opportunity to launch a deep ball.
Finally, after the 'Canes connect on a few long passes, Pitt must respect the Miami receivers and not put extra men in the box, daring Morris to throw. The massive offensive line will then get an opportunity to open running lanes for Crawford and Co.
It's easier said than done, but Golden's team has shown flashes of dominance throughout the season.
The Hurricanes still have an opportunity to win 10 games in a season for the first time since 2003, but Miami must execute offensively against a talented Pitt defense.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR
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