Pickett leads Pitt to upset victory over No. 2 Miami
PITTSBURGH — The fun, frenetic start to the 2017 for the Miami Hurricanes involved strong defensive play sparked by their popular turnover chain and propensity for takeaways.
But despite starting the season unbeaten in 10 games, the No. 2 Hurricanes had a habit all year of falling behind in games they were favored to win.
It finally caught up to them on Friday as the Pittsburgh Panthers, led by true freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett, who ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score, got out to quick start and held on for a 24-14 upset victory at Heinz Field.
The good news for the Hurricanes (10-1, 7-1) is that the loss shouldn’t hurt their chances at a College Football Playoff berth if they beat Clemson next weekend in the ACC Championship Game.
“We hadn’t lost in a while,” coach Mark Richt said. “We’d gone 15 games without a loss, a while since I’d gone into a locker room and do something besides cheer and celebrate. It’s been over a year since we had to do that. I know the guys are hurt. I know I’m hurt. The coaching staff, everyone associated with our program is hurt by it. That’s football. That’s life. The good news is we’re about to play for the ACC championship.”
The Hurricanes trailed by two touchdowns in the third quarter against Virginia Nov. 18 before coming back for 30 unanswered points and a runaway victory. On Oct. 28 against North Carolina, they trailed by six early and led by just one at the half before pulling away for a 24-19 win.
This time, there was no comeback in the cards thanks to a strong performance from the Pitt defense. The Panthers (5-7, 3-5) batted down 10 passes, had four sacks, forced a fumble and allowed just 2 yards per carry on the ground.
“Really a team defensive win. There was a lot of guys that made plays,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I just couldn’t be more proud of our kids. For the older guys, for the seniors, that’s one to remember.”
Miami starter Malik Rosier was mostly ineffective, going of 15 of 34 for 187 yards and two touchdowns. He was briefly pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs. In his third action of the year, Shirreffs fared no better, going 0-of-2 passing. Richt said he expects Rosier to start going forward.
“There’s multiple times where we played 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.”
Pitt’s offense got going thanks to a spark from Pickett, who made his first career start and provided offense both on the ground and through the air. Pickett went 18 of 29 for 193 yards passing, including a 4-yard touchdown on a shovel pass to Qadree Ollison to give Pitt a 10-point lead in the second half.
Pickett also chipped in on the ground, showing off his toughness by breaking tackles on the way to a 6-yard scramble for a score in the first half.
With a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, Pitt took the ball at its own 10-yard line, ran 12 plays and took 6:10 off the clock, with Pickett capping the drive with a 22-yard score on a naked bootleg on a fourth down. Pickett finished with 60 yards rushing on 13 carries.
“It’s a pretty good first start,” Pickett said. “You never really expect it coming out of high school. 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.”
Pitt also got a strong rushing performance on the final drive from Ollison, who finished with 63 yards on 14 carries to go along with his receiving touchdown.
Rosier got back into the game and completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Barrios to close the gap and Miami recovered an onside kick, but Pitt cornerback Avonte Maddox sacked Rosier and forced a fumble that was recovered by Dewayne Hendrix to seal the Pitt win.
NOTES: QB Kenny Pickett was the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Pitt since Pat Bostick in 2007. ... Pitt RT Jaryd Jones-Smith wore No. 75, which was retired by the Panthers in 2015 for former offensive lineman Jimbo Covert. Covert gave Jones-Smith his blessing to wear the jersey. ... The Hurricanes recovered two fumbles while losing just one to increase their NCAA-leading turnover margin to plus-17 on the season. ... Miami RB Travis Homer finished with a season-low 12 yards on seven carries.