A combination of missed turnovers, a successful Miami passing game, and a punchless offense resulted in a 31-3 Miami win over Pitt, in front of a paid attendance of 58,115.
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris completed 21-of-32 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. Damien Berry led the way on the ground for the Hurricanes, carrying the ball 21 times for 90 yards. Harris spread the ball around to seven different receivers. Leading the way was Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd, who each had six receptions.
Pitt had an anemic passing game, with a running game that didn't fare much better. Tino Sunseri completed 8-of-15 passes for 61 yards, and was sacked three times. Pat Bostick came on in relief, completing 5-of-9 passes for 43 yards and two interceptions. Ray Graham led Pitt for a second game in a row with 100 yards on 14 carries, which included a 42-yard run on Pitt's final offensive series of the game.
"I know that our team worked hard, we got better over the four-day period, but we sure as heck didn't show it tonight," head coach Dave Wannstedt said after the game. "Right now, we are not in sync in some areas of our football team."
Wannstedt had a separate meeting with the team's seniors, after the game.
"We have a good group of seniors," Wannstedt said. "It's their team. I just wanted to make them very clear on how I felt, and what the plan was going forward. Right now, we're a one-win football team."
Miami took control of the game from the opening drive, sporting a variation of a no-huddle, fast-pace offense. Berry ground it out on the drive, including the one-yard touchdown run. Jacory Harris, after throwing an incompletion on the first play of the game, completed three consecutive passes, including a 37-yarder to Travis Benjamin, who was in one-on-one coverage with safety Dom DeCicco. The Hurricanes were set up with a 1st-and-Goal at the four.
Dion Lewis gave the Panthers some life on their initial drive, a 9-yard run, but the Panthers hurt themselves with mistakes, which has been a common theme through the early part of the season. Chris Jacobson was called for a false start, pushing the Panthers back to a 3rd-and-10 at their own 8. Sunseri hit a shuffle pass to Lewis, which Miami linebacker Colin McCarthy picked up on, dropping Lewis for a one-yard loss.
DeCicco, after getting picked on earlier with the 37-yard completion, made the interception in the end zone. Just as Wannstedt had talked about this week, Harris likes to take chances. Earlier, he took the chance, setting up Miami inside the five. This time, when he took the chance, DeCicco was there with the diving interception. Unfortunately for DeCicco, that was his last play of the game. Though he was seen on the sideline working out on the bike, and trying to get his stride back, he did not return. He has battled a hamstring injury that kept him limited in the Utah game, and out of the New Hampshire game.
"Dom DeCicco pulled his hamstring again," Wannstedt added. "He didn't play the rest of the game. Jason Hendricks filled in for him."
Pitt shot blanks on its next drive. Sunseri rolled out for a scramble on the first play, followed by a short gain by Lewis on the next play. Sunseri hit Mike Shanahan for what ended up being a two-yard gain. It looked as if Sunseri was aiming deeper, for Ray Graham who was lined up.
Pitt got a little momentum heading into the second quarter. After another anemic series on offense, which including dropped passes by Mike Shanahan and Devin Street, Dan Hutchins boomed a 53-yard punt--one of four punts over 50 yards for Hutchins on the day. Unfortunately, it was returned 75 yards by Benjamin for a touchdown, so it seemed. On the play, Miamis' Tyrone Cornelius blocked Nate Nix on the back, right in the area of where Benjamin caught the punt. Instead of being credited with a 70-yard touchdown return, he was credited with a two-yard return, and the Hurricanes started at their own 37.
Much the way Pitt has shot itself in the foot this season with penalties, now it was Miami's turn. Miami was called for a false start, on the drive. Facing a 2nd-and-16, Myles Caragein stuffed James for only a one-yard gain on a short pass. After that, Jabaal Sheard blew through the right tackle, for a loss of seven--Sheard's biggest play this season. Miami was forced to punt. It even set up Pitt with its best field position of the day.
"I don't even remember it," Sheard said after the game. "It's just something we do every week; get off the ball and studying film. It's just something we need. I tried to step up and make a play when we could."
Sheard finished the game with six tackles and two sacks.
"I think we played are heart out," Sheard said. "I think (Chas Alecxih) stepped up. I think Myles (Caragein) stepped up. I think Brandon (Lindsey) stepped up. Everyone did what they could."
Another three-and-out. Pitt could not contain Miami's pressure up front to either create running room for Dion Lewis or enough time for Sunseri to throw the ball. The Panthers were forced to another three-and-out, and had not crossed the 50 to this point of the game.
The Hurricanes answered with a 15-play, 78-yard drive that resulted in a Matt Bosher 28-yard field goal. Pitt's defense came up with a big stand in the red zone this time. The key play of the drive was a 17-yard pass from Jacory Harris to Aldarius Johnson. Initially, the play was ruled incomplete. Randy Shannon challenged the call, and the play was reversed. That set Miami up in Pitt territory for the third time of the game. This time, it was Miami halting its drive with three penalties in the red zone; a delay of game, an ineligible man downfield and a false start. Jared Holley broke up consecutive passes in the end zone, which forced the Hurricanes into a fourth down.
Holley, who stepped it up even more on Thursday night, responded even more on the next series. Again, Harris being aggressive and going for the big play, put one up for Travis Benjamin. Holley somehow slipped behind Benjamin, and picked the pass off, his third of the year.
"They bunch up together, and me and Ricky (Gary) were on the same side," Holley said, describing his interception. "We worked that route in practice, so I just tried to stay inside, and make a play for our defense."
Holley's interception gave Pitt some momentum. On the ensuing drive, Pitt picked up its first, first down of the game. Graham ran the ball five straight times for 20 yards to start the drive, picking up two first downs in the process. It was time for some trickery. Greg Cross entered the game at receiver. On an end-around, Sunseri handed off the ball to Cross, who was sacked for an 18-yard loss. The play was credited as a sack, because as Cross pulled the ball back, it was considered the act of throwing.
Pitt was able to come back from that play, as Sunseri hit Graham with a short pass. In the process, Graham made would-be tacklers Brandon Harris and Ramon Buchanon miss. He galloped for a gain of 33, Pitt's biggest gain of the day to that point. Prior to that play, Pitt had a total of 37 yards.
After the big play to Graham, though, Pitt's offense stuttered again. Dan Hutchins attempted a 52-yard field goal, which had the distance, but was wide left. Miami took a knee on the final play of the half, yet was only up 10-0. Pitt had its chances to make it a closer game, or to even score, but couldn't make anything happen.
"It's not most of the offense, it's a lot of the mistakes we make--the penalties," Graham said. "We get big plays, then they come right back. That's the main problem right now."
Though Pitt started off the second half an offense, as they did against New Hampshire, this time they did not come out throwing the ball. Instead, it was Lewis with a pair of short runs. Pitt went three-and-out to start the half, after Sunseri's pass to Graham went for a short gain of two. That wasn't all. Hutchins shanked the punt, which only went 26 yards. On top of that, Pitt was called for an illegal shift. Miami was set up with good field position at its own 49.
Miami went back to its no-huddle offense, driving 51 yards in just four plays, keyed by a pair of strikes from Harris to Benjamin. Harris found leading-receiver Leonard Hankerson in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown, putting Miami up 17-0 with 12 minutes left in the third quarter. There was still plenty of time for Pitt to make a run at it, or just get one score to make it a game.
Instead, the Panthers answered with another three-and-out. Sunseri was sacked for a third time. Even though Lewis picked up a gain of 10, up the middle, Sunseri's pass on third down intended for Jon Baldwin, sailed over his head. It was the first pass intended for Baldwin all game. After the game, Wannstedt said it's important to get Baldwin involved in the game earlier.
"It's real important," Wannstedt said. "We had him open two or three times and we got sacked."
On Pitt's next series, which forced a three-and-out, Dan Mason went down with a dislocated right knee. Mason wasn't in on the tackle. He planted his foot wrong, and went down. As he lay on the ground, his right leg was elevated, as he was in pain. Immediately, the Pitt training staff came onto the field with an aircast. Mason was taken to UPMC Presbyterian for further evaluation.
"Dan Mason went in there and dislocated his kneecap," Wannstedt said. "The details and the extent of that injury, I'm not a hundred percent sure. It was severe enough to cart him off."
Both teams traded punts once again, before Pitt came up with its most serious drive of the game. The Panthers got a lucky bounce thanks to a Matt Bosher punt that went just 28 yards. Graham carried the ball four of the first five plays. For just the second time in the game, and the ball at the Miami 36, Sunseri put one up deep for Baldwin. Baldwin reached out for the ball and caught it at the back of the end zone. Wannstedt challenged the play, which stood. On the play, however, Sunseri took a hit to the head, resulting in a 15-yard penalty.
Despite being granted access into the Miami red zone for the first time all game, Pitt could only produce a 27-yard field goal. Though the Panthers were on the scoreboard, they still trailed by two scores with 14:27 left in the game.
Pitt held Miami to a three-and-out on the next series, forcing the Hurricanes to punt from their own 20. The Panthers were looking at the possibility of getting some good field position. Instead, Cameron Saddler muffed the punt at the Pitt 40, which was recovered by Kylan Robinson. Miami took advantage, going 43 yards in four plays, resulting in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Harris to Benjamin.
"The final blow was the turnover on the (muffed) punt return," Wannstedt said. "We kicked the field goal, we stopped them on defense, the crowd is into it. We fumbled the punt at the 50, and that was the ball game."
Pat Bostick entered the game on the next series. Sunseri finished the game completing 8-of-15 passes for 61 yards, and was sacked three times. Bostick started off his shift with four consecutive completions. He completed 5-of-8 passes on his first drive, that ended with a Ryan Hill interception at the Miami 8.
Though Sunseri couldn't spark the offense during his time in the game, Wannstedt said after the game that Bostick was inserted because of the hit Sunseri took from Ramon Buchanon.
"He got hit in the head, and he told the trainers his vision was not right," Wannstedt added. "It was a medical decision."
The Panthers were able to hold Miami to another three-and-out. This time, Saddler returned the ball for 29 yards to the Miami 35. On top of that, Miami was called for a personal foul on the punt, which setup the Panthers at the Miami 20 to start the drive. On the first play, Bostick was picked off by DeMarcus VanDyke in the end zone. It was a microcosm of the game. Miami gave Pitt plenty of chances--whether it be penalties, turnovers or key plays in special teams. Pitt could not even capitalize on Miami's mistakes.
On its final series of the game, Graham had a 42-yard run that set up the Panthers at the Miami 7. With a 1st-and-Goal at the Miami 7, Pitt ran out the clock on three plays, instead of try for at least one pass, or to get in the end zone.
"Playcalling, it was running the ball," Wannstedt said of the decision to not take a shot at the end zone. "We didn't want to get sacked."