PITTSBURGH (AP) Miami spent the better part of 13 months putting together the nation’s longest winning streak behind a series of comebacks that returned the swagger to ”The U” in all of its ”Turnover Chain” glory.
Sluggish throughout the first half against Pittsburgh on Friday, the Hurricanes figured they’d come out for the third quarter, hit the gas and survive just the way they’ve done time and again during their rebirth under second-year coach Mark Richt.
Miami’s perfect season is over. The second-ranked Hurricanes can only hope their shot at a College Football Playoff berth isn’t gone, too.
Freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as the Panthers pulled out a decisive 24-14 stunner that sent Miami reeling into next week’s ACC title game showdown with defending national champion Clemson.
”I still think there’s an awful lot to play for,” Miami coach Mark Richt said. ”We have no idea what’s going to happen in the big picture, how many teams lost a game on a Friday and came back and got in the top four? How many teams lost one game and won a conference championship and got right back in it? Who knows? So we don’t know.”
A chance to put together the program’s first unbeaten regular season since 2002 vanished at chilly but hardly cold Heinz Field. Malik Rosier completed just 15 of 34 passes for 187 and two touchdowns and was briefly pulled in the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes (10-1, 7-1 ACC, CFP No. 2) managed just 232 yards, a season-low, and spotted Pitt a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Panthers put together a pair of long touchdown drives engineered by Pickett and the emphatic response from Miami never materialized.
”There’s multiple times where we play lackadaisical in the first half and in the second half we come out and explode and it just didn’t happen,” Rosier said. ”That’s something I’ve got to fix. I’ve got to motivate those guys in the first half so the second half doesn’t have to be some type of miracle second half.”
Miami stressed it had learned an important lesson after spotting Virginia a two-touchdown lead last week before recovering to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 15 games. Yet the Hurricanes walked onto the Heinz Field turf in a weird spot.
The ACC Coastal Division champions are well aware their meeting with No. 4 Clemson next Saturday will serve as the ultimate arbiter on whether the Hurricanes are worthy of consideration for the College Football Playoff. The loss to Pittsburgh might not matter as long as they beat the defending national champions.
Time to put the theory to the test.
”We want to focus on Clemson and if we win and we get in, great,” Rosier said. ”If we win and we don’t, that’s just something we have to live with. It was our play that got us to where we’re at.”
Miami: The Hurricanes may have that glittery record and marquee wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, but they’ve lived dangerously all year. Their uninspired performance with a perfect season at stake probably closes the door on two ACC teams getting into the playoff.
Pitt: The Panthers (5-7) will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2007, but the future is promising. Pitt only loses eight seniors on the two-deep chart and the aggressive, dominant defense coach Pat Narduzzi promised when he was hired three years ago may be coming around. Pitt only allowed one of its final nine opponents to go over 300 yards passing.
The Panthers may have finally found a quarterback in Pickett, whose 22-yard naked bootleg with 2:54 left gave the Panthers all the cushion they would need to beat a No. 2 team at home for the first time in program history.
”You don’t think your first start is going to come against the No. 2 team in the country and you upset them at home. It’s an unbelievable feeling and I’m real happy we got it done for the seniors,” Pickett said.
The last touchdown came on a fourth-and-6 at the Miami 22. Pickett pulled the ball away from running back Qadree Ollison and sprinted for the pylon. Only Pickett, Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson knew Pickett would run it. Everyone else had no clue.
”I was just going to get the first down and get down, but I turned the corner and when I looked, no one was there,” Pickett said.
A year ago, the Panthers handed Clemson its only loss of the season with a thrilling victory in Death Valley. A decade ago they stunned West Virginia in the regular season finale, a setback that cost the Mountaineers a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
Those two now have company, with Narduzzi saying as much during a brief sideline interview at the start of the second half. Then the Panthers went out and backed it up.
”I talked about the past and the big upset win at West Virginia,” Narduzzi said. ”It happened in Clemson last year. I told the players it’s about time it happened in Pittsburgh.”
Miami: Makes its first ACC championship game appearance on Dec 2.
Pitt: Will open the 2018 season at home against Albany on Sept. 1.