PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Miami Hurricanes capitalized on early mistakes by the Pittsburgh Panthers, winning 41-31 on Friday in Pittsburgh in the regular season’s final game.
The win brought Miami to the brink of a championship game but those hopes were dashed when Duke won its weekend game. The Hurricanes ended the season 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the ACC Coastal Division. Miami is still in contention for a bowl game, though. The Hurricanes could be picked for the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28 in Orlando against the Louisville Cardinal (10-1) whose quarterback is Teddy Bridgewater of Miami.
Alternatively, Miami could be tapped for the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta against the Texas A&M Aggies which is led by quarterback Johnny Manziel, a Heisman Trophy winner.
It will be the Hurricanes’ first bowl game in three years. Miami took advantage of mistakes by Pittsburgh Friday, including a fumbled opening kickoff and a partially blocked punt, allowing Miami’s Stacy Coley to catch a pair of touchdowns from Stephen Morris before the game was four minutes old.
Coley later added a zig-zagging 73-yard touchdown run for the Hurricanes (9-3, 5-3 ACC). “It’s hard to beat a good team like Miami with all the mistakes that we made today,” Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “You just can’t win games like that. We didn’t get down, and we came out the second half fighting. But we just couldn’t do it.”
Allen Hurns caught nine passes for 173 yards for Miami, which has won eight straight and 16 of the last 17 meetings with Pitt. Most of those wins came when the teams were still rivals in the Big East.
Switching conferences, however, has done little to change the result. Even the conditions failed to deter Miami. Several Hurricanes warmed up without a shirt on, a symbolic gesture meant to show they weren’t going to let something like a little 33 degree chill bother them.
“We were talking all week that we’re not going to let the cold affect us at all,” Miami center Jared Wheeler said. “We’re tired of everyone telling us, ‘Oh, it’s cold, Miami isn’t going to do well.’”
Hardly. Morris completed 17 of 28 passes for 296 yards and three scores as Miami piled up 476 total yards. The Panthers racked up 501, most coming in the second half with the Hurricanes nursing a big lead.
Rather than nurse the lead, Miami attacked. Morris deftly guided a seven-play 78-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard flip to Asante Cleveland.
The win took some of the sting out of a late season swoon. Miami ended a three-game losing streak the previous week against Virginia then backed it up by looking very much like the dominant force it was during a 7-0 start.
Hurns continued one of greatest seasons by a Miami receiver in school history by pulling in a 66-yard pass to set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards. Hurns has 1,138 yards receiving to put Leonard Hankerson’s 1,156-yard effort in 2010 in serious jeopardy.
The Panthers, tepidly trying to avoid its third straight 6-6 finish, didn’t exactly put up a fight when the game was up for grabs.
Garrett Kidd jumped on a fumble by Pitt’s Lafayette Pitts on the opening kickoff and Morris needed just three plays to hit Coley for a 32-yard catch and run to put Miami in front 7-0. The Panthers went nowhere on its next drive and when Tyriq McCord partially blocked Matt Yoklic’s punt the Hurricanes had the ball at the Pitt 42.
Morris and Coley needed only two plays to make it 14-0 as Coley turned a quick screen into a pair of missed tackles and a 34-yard sprint down the sideline for a score.
Bennett responded with a 45-yard touchdown run but it was one of the few true defensive mistakes by the Hurricanes, whose ineptitude during the second half of the season cost them a shot at the national title.
Hopes for a rematch with No. 2 Florida State in the ACC title game remained alive for a day or two and then were dashed when Duke won its game.
Material from The Miami Herald was used in preparing this story.