Pitt’s football team didn’t seem to stand much of a chance against No. 2 Miami today. But they didn’t stand much of a chance ten years ago facing then No. 2 West Virginia before pulling off an upset win.
The Panthers, for the second time in two seasons, shocked the world with a stunning victory over No. 2 Miami at Heinz Field, 24-14. Last year, it was the Panthers taking down an undefeated Clemson team. This year, the Hurricanes suffered their first loss at the hands of the Panthers.
Pitt flat out was the aggressor today. With a 4-7 record and seemingly little to play for, the Panthers got out to a quick 3-0 lead and after falling behind 7-3, never trailed again after a touchdown run by starting quarterback Kenny Pickett put them up 10-7. Pitt tacked on another score with a Quadree Ollison touchdown reception to go up 17-7.
Pitt put the icing on the cake with a surprise 4th down bootleg with only about three minutes left as Kenny Pickett took it to the house for a 22-yard touchdown to give Pitt a convincing 24-7 lead and ultimately, the win. Miami would add a touchdown after blown coverage in the secondary but still fell short.
Pitt, as they typically do, made things far too interesting. That touchdown came only about 30 seconds after the Panthers’ score. Miami then got an onside kick after a somewhat controversial call. It appeared as if the Hurricanes defender recovered the ball out of bounds but after it was ruled in, no view was conclusive enough to overturn it. I thought the better call there would have been to rule it out of bounds and try to prove otherwise - it simply didn’t look like the Miami player could have recovered it in bounds. Pitt forced a fumble, though, and ended the game from there.
Pickett, as expected, got the start over Ben DiNucci. Starting his first game, he was mostly under control. I thought he had a few balls that could have been turnovers and the game proved his decision-making still needs to be improved. But to come out with the composure he did today and grab a win just exceeded expectations. Overall, he was 18-29 for 193 yards and a touchdown. Pickett also did damage on the ground with 60 rushing yards and two rushing scores.
Speaking of rushing, none of the Panthers’ backs went off. But Qadree Ollison was a factor with 62 yards on the ground, including some big late runs. Really good to see him come off the bench to do some damage. Darrin Hall, who had ten rushes for only 30 yards, was sort of bottled up most of the game.
What you really have to like is what Pitt did defensively. The Panthers have struggled there during Narduzzi’s tenure but the unit seems to be making real strides. The second of the season was markedly different and despite a few losses, the Panthers return most of the group.
Briefly looking ahead to next year, I don’t know if head coach Pat Narduzzi now stands pat at quarterback and doesn’t snag another grad transfer at the position. But if he doesn’t it will be more understandable since Pickett certainly looks the part of a guy you can work with.
Pitt’s season is almost certainly over with only a few 5-win teams generally ending up in bowls. Assuming it is, though, at least the Panthers provided a bit of optimism for fans looking ahead to next season.
While the Panthers won only five games, Narduzzi had a great point afterwards while being interviewed in that Pitt was close to winning several more. On paper the season looked really bad but the Panthers really were probably at least a little better than their record indicated.
It’s also yet another big win for Narduzzi. Narduzzi has endured a tough year with the Panthers finishing under .500 for the first time since 2007. But, it’s these kinds of games that prove he absolutely knows what he’s doing under the spotlight. There’s no question that the season was a disappointment but Narduzzi has the defense finally showing significant improvement and you’ve got to like where this is headed.