No. 17 Pitt faced Miami at Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon, and the Panthers entered the game with vengeance in mind after three straight losses to the Hurricanes over the last three seasons. That wish would go unfulfilled, though, as Miami topped Pitt 38-34.
The Panthers entered the game with some uncertainty lingering over two of their stars, as Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda and Pitt receiver Jordan Addison were in the concussion protocol after last week’s matchup with Clemson. But doubts over their status would be put to rest quickly, as Abanikanda was back to receive the opening kickoff, and Addison was targeted on Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett’s second throw of the game.
That pass would fall incomplete but the Panthers’ first drive would be a success, as a pass from Pickett to Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew would go for 37 yards and put the Panthers in position to strike. They would, as Pickett found Pitt receiver Taysir Mack wide open at the goal line for a completion and Abanikanda would run it in on the next play to put the Panthers up 7-0 early.
The Hurricanes would answer on their first drive of the day, with Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke completing a 57-yard pass to Miami receiver Key’Shawn Smith and then capping off the drive with a 20-yard strike to Miami receiver Elijah Arroyo for a touchdown to tie the game at seven. From there, the Hurricanes would not let up, as Van Dyke found Miami tight end Will Mallory for a 57-yard score on a flea flicker and Miami running back Jaylan Knighton broke off a 40-yard run on the next drive to make it 21-7.
The Panthers would narrow the gap on the next drive, which ended with a made 38-yard field goal by Pitt kicker Sam Scarton, and after closing out the first quarter with a long-awaited stop of the Miami offense, Pickett would lead Pitt downfield again. He got the drive rolling with a 39-yard pass to Addison and capped it off with a dump-off pass to Abanikanda, who ran it in 20 yards for a score to make it 21-17.
On Miami’s next drive, Pitt would hold the visiting team to a field goal despite a charitable roughing the passer call against Pitt defensive end John Morgan by the ACC officiating crew. At that point, six points seemed inevitable, so the stand was a victory of sorts for the Panthers. And with the score at 24-17, Pitt would drive downfield again but stall out at Miami’s 38-yard line and punt the ball away.
Pitt would get another shot at tying the game after a three-and-out by Miami, but on the first play of the drive, Pickett threw the ball into double coverage in an attempt to find Addison and gave the ball up to Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson. Four plays later, the Hurricanes would find the end zone, as Knighton leapt over the goal line to put his team up by a score of 31-17.
Pitt would mount one more offensive effort before the halftime break, but it proved feckless, as it was marred by miscues, penalties and ineffectual play-calling. That drive would end with a miss on a 49-yard field goal attempt by Scarton, making the halftime score 31-17, Hurricanes.
After a quiet first half, the Pitt pass rush came through early in the third quarter, as Pitt defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado took down Van Dyke for a drive-killing sack. The Panthers then capitalized with a 32-yard punt return by Pitt return man Jaylon Barden and a pass by Pickett completed under duress to Pitt receiver Jared Wayne to narrow Miami’s lead to 31-24.
Pitt would tie the game on its second drive of the third quarter, as Pickett confidently led the Panthers downfield with passes of 10-plus yards to Addison, Wayne, Krull and Addison again to put Pitt in scoring position. Then, he polished off the drive by rolling out to complete a 19-yard pass to Jared Wayne to tie it up.
The Hurricanes would pull ahead once more on the following drive, as the Pitt defense allowed Van Dyke to make his way into Pitt territory with relative ease and then complete a 13-yard pass to Smith for the go-ahead score. That made it 38-31, and Pitt would only be able to manage a field goal in its attempt to respond on the subsequent drive, making it 38-34 and setting up a tense fourth quarter.
About halfway through the fourth quarter, Pitt safety John Petrishen would come up with a clutch interception in the red zone to regain possession for the Panthers and diffuse a dire situation. That would set up a promising drive by Pitt that would end in despair, as Pickett threw his second interception of the game to Miami safety James Williams.
That set Miami up on its own two-yard line, and Pitt responded by taking down Knighton in his own end zone for a safety. However, Miami was once again bailed out by the ACC officiating crew, which claimed that he got to the one-yard line. The game would hinge on that call, as Pitt then allowed Van Dyke to complete an 18-yard pass to Miami receiver Charleston Rambo, which gave the Hurricanes breathing room. They then used that to gain a first down and effectively end the game.
With the loss, Pitt fell to 6-2 on the season and will likely see the hype around the program deflate to some extent. For starters, the Panthers are sure to see a drop in ranking after falling to a 3-4 team, and the Heisman buzz around Pickett may well dissipate after his two costly picks. Still, Pitt could compete for an ACC title, but it will have to right the ship after Saturday's disappointment. And the team's first opportunity to do so will be next week in Durham, where Pitt will face Duke.