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MIA: Pitt’s offense absent in 16-12 loss to Hurricanes

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You play with fire enough and you’re liable to be burned.

Pitt came into today’s game against Miami with a minty-fresh 5-2 record and a bit of national publicity with today’s game on ESPN. But the Panthers had won their five contests by an average of less than five points per game and have really had close calls all year long.

Some have argued that the Panthers could have actually been 6-1 if it weren’t for a poor decision by Pat Narduzzi in the Penn State game. While that’s technically true, I argued that the Panthers could actually have been 2-4 or even 1-5 at the midway point of the season. Pitt has had a lot of close calls this year (mostly, albeit unnecessarily) and today, it finally caught up with them in a disappointing 16-12 loss against Miami.

Now Miami is not the worst team in the world. Even though I ranked them last in the ACC Power Rankings this week after their loss to Georgia Tech, they also took out Virginia this season and have a strong defense. A good defense is enough to keep you in games against anyone.

Because of that, I refuse to believe this is the worst loss in the world. It’s disappointing in that Miami’s own offense was terrible today and because the game was there for the taking. But there are worse teams you can lose to.

If you missed it, this was a textbook example of how turnovers cost you games. Quarterback Kenny Pickett threw two interceptions and the Panthers had a third turnover with a fumble/strip of a receiver, leading to ten Miami points. Those ten points wouldn’t normally be terrible in a regular game with, you know, points. But when you take into account how much the Hurricanes struggled offensively, that was huge and more than half of their total points.

Despite that, Pitt settled down and ultimately took better care of the ball. But they found themselves trailing 10-6 at halftime and with neither team doing much on offense, even that was fairly big. The Panthers did add a couple of field goals but 12 points won’t be enough to win most games.

To me, there were two big turning points in this game, aside from the final Miami touchdown that doomed Pitt.

The first was Miami replacing quarterback N’Kosi Perry late in the game with previous starter Jarren Williams. Now, I’ve seen both of these guys play this year and Williams always struck me as the better of the two. He had a terrible game in a loss to Virginia Tech, throwing three interceptions, which is why he was benched. But his numbers prior to that game were pretty good and he didn’t have any picks through his first four games. Why he was replaced by Perry with one bad game, I’ll never know. But while Perry has had some nice moments, he doesn’t strike me as a good quarterback at all. I was sort of bummed when he came out because I didn’t see him beating Pitt whereas Williams was more of a question mark.

Williams came in, made a key first down with a run, and then threw the winning touchdown pass with about minute left. Pitt had all three timeouts but after Maurice Ffrench flubbed a slant pass where he could have really done some damage with open space in front of him, that was basically it.

The other big moment came when Pitt had the ball. They had taken a 12-10 lead and got the ball back with 5:32 left in the game. The Panthers ran on their first two plays, which you might expect. But at 3rd and 5, they inexplicably ran again going ultra conservative. The plan was clear. Pitt was not willing to put the ball in the hands of Kenny Pickett and three straight runs was about as ideal a scenario for Miami as there could have been. They were forced to burn only one timeout and then got the ball back needing only a field goal with plenty of time.

I wasn’t crazy about the first two runs but could live with it. But at 3rd and 5, you’ve got to throw the ball there. You don’t need a bomb or even a difficult throw. Throw a slant or a screen, get someone in space, and roll the dice. Worst case scenario other than a pick? A dropped pass stops the clock and keeps one of their three timeouts. Hardly a terrible outcome. And if you’re Pitt and throwing in that situation, you give yourself a better chance of picking up a first down.

I hated the call 100%. Make that 1000%.

Those two scenarios did not necessarily lose the game for Pitt. They were basically lights out on defense, got some great kicking by Alex Kessman, who nailed all four field goal attempts. And they even got the running game going today, finishing with 176 yards on the ground. The problem, of course, was capitalizing on drives and those pesky turnovers.

But let’s talk about finishing drives a minute. I wouldn’t really call those turning points but they were huge. Kessman’s first field goal was a bomb at 54 yards, so you take that, obviously. But his second was when Pitt got down to Miami’s 7-yard line and had to settle. The third was after Pitt got an interception and started the drive inside Miami’s red zone at the 17, settling again. And the last was the most painful as Pitt got all the way down to the Miami 1 before settling for a field goal.

Narduzzi’s decision to kick it there will be called into question given the loss and margin of victory but it shouldn’t be. The reality is that Pitt was still trailing in the game at that point and if you have a chance to take the lead with the way the defense was playing, you take it. Easy call, in my opinion.

Regardless, though, if you’re looking for a culprit for this third loss, that’s a fairly good one. In a close game, you’ve got to score points and Pitt simply didn’t score enough of them, considering how close they came to the end zone on multiple occasions.

Pitt’s chances for a Division title aren’t completely out of reach here. But the Panthers could really use a Louisville win over Virginia today. Otherwise, things get very difficult from here. Next up, the Panthers head to Georgia Tech next weekend.

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