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Pitt

Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Pitt stuns Miami for biggest home win in school history

Kevin Gorman
| Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, 3:48 p.m.
Pitt celebrates after beating No. 2 Miami on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt celebrates after beating No. 2 Miami on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, at Heinz Field.

1. Miami came to Heinz Field ranked No. 2 nationally but leading the country in turnovers per game, making The U's “Turnover Chain” a gimmick captured on television cameras every time the Hurricanes recovered a fumble or got an interception.

Miami was averaging 2.7 turnovers per game and had a plus-1.6 turnover margin ­— tied for best in the nation — coming into Friday's game, thanks to forcing 19 over the past five games.

So, it was only a matter of time before the turnover chain made an appearance against the Panthers. But the 'Canes didn't capitalize on two first-half turnovers, despite getting the ball near midfield.

The first came on the first play of the second quarter, on a high snap that Pitt freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett couldn't handle. It was recovered by linebacker Michael Pinckney at the Miami 49, but the Hurricanes went three-and-out, gaining only 3 yards.

The second came after Miami took a 7-3 lead, when tight end Chris Clark fumbled after a hit by safety Sheldrick Redwine and the ball was recovered by safety Jaquan Johnson at the Miami 48. Again, the Canes went three-and-out, gaining only 7 yards.

Given how much Miami fed off four turnovers in its 41-8 victory over then-No. 3 Notre Dame – turning the first three into 17 points – those three-and-outs were a major factor for Pitt.

2. Problem was, Pitt gave up good field position both times.

The Panthers had moved from their own 22 to Miami's 31 before the snap snafu, thanks to an 18-yard run by Quadree Henderson on a double reverse, before the first turnover.

And had Clark maintained control of the ball, Pitt would have had the ball at its 43 with some momentum.

The Panthers led, 10-7, at halftime. But those turnovers proved costly, in terms of keeping them from building a bigger lead.

3. Speaking of 10-7 leads, much has been made of the parallels between Pitt's 13-9 upset of No. 2 West Virginia in 2007 and this Miami game.

Add this to the list: Pitt took a 10-7 lead on a 6-yard run by Pickett, who had 37 yards in the first half on seven carries and scored with 35 seconds left in the first half despite a hit at the goal line by the safety Johnson that spun him like a helicopter into the end zone.

That was the same score Pitt led by early in the third quarter a decade earlier at West Virginia, after a freshman quarterback (Pat Bostick) scored on a 1-yard run.

At the half, Pitt had outgained Miami, 176-108, with a four-minute, four-second edge in time of possession. The Panthers weren't winning by luck; they were outplaying the Canes.

No wonder Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi predicted an upset in a halftime interview: “It happened in West Virginia, where we knocked off No. 2. It happened in South Carolina, and it's happening in Pittsburgh today.”

4. Heinz Field was only half-full, with an announced attendance of 35,978, on a beautiful late November afternoon for a season-ending game against the nation's No. 2 team.

Say what you want about Pitt needing a smaller, on-campus stadium, but I've been adamant that the Panthers need to win their home games to draw late-season crowds.

If Pitt had beaten Oklahoma State, N.C. State and North Carolina instead of losing, the Panthers would have been 7-4 instead of 4-7 and fans would have been pumped about playing a team in the national playoff picture.

But if you saw the scene at the end of third quarter, when Pitt players ran to midfield with four fingers raised amid a 17-7 lead over mighty Miami, you knew this: Atmosphere wasn't the issue. Fans were on their feet for much of the fourth quarter.

An excited Pitt historian Sam Sciullo stopped over at halftime, believing this would be the biggest home victory in school history if the Panthers could pull off the upset.

He was right.

Pitt had beaten a No. 3, Fordham (13-0) in 1941, a No. 4, Notre Dame (30-22) in 1987 and a No. 5, Virginia Tech (31-28) in 2003, but never a team ranked as high as these Miami Hurricanes.

5. Pitt has found a quarterback in Pickett, a freshman from Oakhurst, N.J. Not only did he complete 18 of 29 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown and rush for 60 yards on 13 carries and two more scores, he outplayed Miami's Malik Rosier.

Pickett's poise helped the Panthers convert 8 of 16 third downs, including a critical third-and-8 from the 37 for 29 yards to Jester Weah, but Qadree Ollison also played a key role.

After a 9-yard completion to Aaron Mathews, Ollison ran for gains of 9, 6 and 7 for a first-and-goal at the Miami 3. After a 2-yard loss, Ollison caught a shovel pass from Pickett for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 17-7 lead at 1:47 of the third quarter. Ollison also carried eight times for 38 yards on the final drive, setting up a fourth-and-6 that will go down in Pitt history.

Pickett ran a play-action fake to his right and took off left on a bootleg for a 22-yard touchdown run, diving for the pylon to put an exclamation point on the biggest home win in Panthers history.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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