Five takeaways from No. 2 Miami Hurricanes’ 24-14 loss at Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PA – NOVEMBER 24: Jeff Thomas #4 of the Miami Hurricanes can’t make the catch against Dane Jackson #11 of the Pittsburgh Panthers on November 24, 2017 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

[Live updates and commentary as it was happening]

[What Mark Richt, players said afterward]

PITTSBURGH – The Cardiac Canes finally went cold.

Trying to secure its first perfect regular season since 2002 and remain near the top of the College Football Playoff rankings, Miami couldn’t overcome a Pitt team with little to play for and playing a true freshman making his first career start.

The Hurricanes (10-1, 7-1 ACC) recovered an onside kick with 2:13 remaining, after Braxton Berrios caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Malik Rosier, but it was too little, too late.

The final: Pitt 24, Miami 14. The Hurricanes’ 15-game winning streak, longest in FBS, is over.

Five takeaways:

Can Miami still make the playoffs?

Short answer: yes.

The selection committee looks at a team’s complete resume, not their most recent game. After all, No. 2 Clemson lost to Pitt in Week 12 last year, fell to No. 4, and eventually won the national title.

The fact the Pac-12 doesn’t appear to have a playoff contender helps. The fact that Alabama and Wisconsin enter the weekend as the only unbeatens helps Miami as well. UM should hope everyone but Alabama loses this weekend; if the top-ranked Crimson Tide stay undefeated, they’re in, and it would mean the SEC has a lesser shot of getting two teams in.

The Hurricanes need to beat Clemson next Saturday in the ACC Championship Game, obviously, but they aren’t out of it. They’re just among a slew of one-loss teams hoping to hear their names called, rather than a team that controls its own destiny.

“Everything was in front of us,” senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios said. “To give that up is terrible.”

Pitt, giant-slayer.

This was the best game of the year for the Panthers (5-7, 3-5), who will go into the offseason happy. It was also the highest-ranked team Pitt, in year 128 of playing football, has ever beat at home.

The staff of Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi, who started third-stringer Kenny Pickett – the first true freshman to start for Pitt since 2007 – outschemed Miami with fakes and end-arounds and well-timed pitches early, and took advantage of a worn-down defense late. The Panthers broke up 11 passes, several at the defensive line. The play that sealed it: Cornerback Avonte Maddox sacked Malik Rosier and forced a fumble with 1:45 left, and defensive end Dewayne Hendrix recovered.

In a halftime interview with ESPN’s Allison Williams, Narduzzi referred to his program’s two previous late-season wins over second-ranked teams. The Panthers beat West Virginia in 2007 and Clemson last year.

He called his shot.

“It happened at West Virginia where we knocked off No. 2, it happened in South Carolina, and it’s happening in Pittsburgh today,” he said, walking off.

In that 2007 game, Pitt was also 4-7. They knocked WVU out of the BCS championship picture.

Friday, Heinz Field was less than half-full, but the home fans were fired up. The Hurricanes seemed to grow increasingly more nervous as the game wore on. They were likely resigned to defeat after, in the fourth quarter, a third-down pass slid through the hands of Trajan Bandy and right to a waiting Quadree Henderson for a 19-yard first down. It was Pitt’s day.

A fan handed cornerback Avonte Maddox, who recovered a game-sealing fumble, a homemade, Panthers-logo chain as he walked off the field. He wore it in the locker room.

Miserable game for the offense.

Now that we can look ahead to Clemson: will the Hurricanes’ season-long run of shaky offense burn them when it counts most?

If they play like they did Friday, oh, it certainly will. Miami turned a slow start into its worst offensive performance of the year.

Rosier was off-target all day and pulled for a non-injury for the first time in his first season as a UM starter Miami’s backs couldn’t find room (45 yards, 23 carries). UM scored one lonely touchdown off two forced turnovers.

“The throwing and catching part, we struggled,” Mark Richt said. “Some of it was protection. … We just missed too many opportunities.”

Against the 99th-ranked defense (6.13 yards per play), which was allowing 411.5 yards per game, Miami put up 3.9 and 232.

When Pitt scored to go ahead 17-7 with 1:47 in the third quarter, Miami had 129 yards of offense.

It was so bad for Miami that early in the fourth quarter, even the sure-handed Berrios couldn’t come down with a throw in the flat that was slightly off-target, but in his hands.

Richt even tried backup Evan Shirreffs at 9:58 of the fourth quarter. The drive: batted pass at the defensive line, short-armed throw to what would have been a wide-open tight end, and a sack.

“He was struggling hitting his target, I thought,” said Richt of Rosier, who returned to the game after that. He hit Braxton Berrios for a 36-yard touchdown with 2:16 left.

The only touchdown of the first half: Ahmmon Richards’ toe-tappin catch of 23 yards came after Rosier found Dayall Harris, Berrios and Chris Herndon on screens. That made it 7-3, with 7:03 left in the second quarter.

And after that nine-play, 80-yard drive lasting 3:51, Miami had one drive lasting longer than two minutes, and none lasting longer than 2:25.

No Chain reaction.

Miami couldn’t capitalize off turnovers.

On the first play of the second quarter, Pitt fumbled a bad snap and linebacker Michael Pinckney recovered, waving the Turnover Chain at the Miami fans who made the trip. UM went three-and-out.

After Miami’s second fumble recovery, by safety Jaquan Johnson after a booming hit by Sheldrick Redwine, Rosier had Berrios open down the field on third down, but threw behind him. Punt.

Hard-hitting D showed up.

It’s hard to fault Miami’s defense for this performance.

Sheldrick Redwine had an outstanding game: career-high 12 tackles, forced fumble, pass break-up in the end zone and several other hard hits. Defensive tackle RJ McIntosh had two tackles for loss. The linebackers were active.

Miami had one sack and five tackles for loss, below its usual standard. In their defense, they were on the field way too long. Pitt possessed the ball nearly 37 minutes.

But not enough players made defensive plays against Jester Weah, who had 80 yards on six catches. Miami couldn’t get enough stops against Pickett, who completed 18-of-29 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown, and perhaps most importantly, no touchdowns.

Pickett’s fake and naked bootleg let him dive over the pylon for a 22-yard rushing touchdown, which put the game away with 2:54 left.

Bonus: Punts and penalties.

We typically avoid Miami’s defensive line has a legitimate, season-long beef with officials, who haven’t called a holding penalty on an opposing offensive line since Florida State (Oct. 7).

However, the Hurricanes hurt themselves with a few untimely calls against them. Two on returns stick out.

Overall, true freshman punter Zach Feagles has had a decent season for a first-timer. He should be a solid player for the Hurricanes in years to come.

But his shanks and misfires have been bad (recall the minus-1 yard punt at Duke). He had his worst game of the season. Richt said they’re riding with him. Like Rosier, the offensive line and really, everyone, he’ll have to be much better against Clemson.

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