Behind true freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh disrupted the College Football Playoff race on the final weekend of the regular season with a stunning 24-14 win Friday over the visiting Hurricanes, who were ranked second behind Alabama in the latest CFP poll. Barring more chaos on Saturday, Miami (10-1) must now beat defending national champion Clemson in the ACC title game on Dec. 2 to have a chance at playing in college football’s final four. Before Friday’s game, there was a line of thinking that both the Tigers and Hurricanes could end up in the playoff from the ACC, no matter the result of next weekend’s game; the chances of that happening were erased by the Panthers.
Pickett didn’t put up gaudy passing numbers, completing 18 of 29 passes for 187 yards and a score, but he also rushed for two touchdowns, the latter on a nifty fourth-down bootleg that fooled everyone in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers their final points. At one point this year it was thought that Pickett would sit out this season as a redshirt, but Coach Pat Narduzzi burned Pickett’s redshirt by putting him into a loss against Syracuse on Oct. 7 merely to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the game. Pickett replaced starter Ben DiNucci in a loss to Virginia Tech on Nov. 18 and then made his first start on Monday.
“It’s a big-time win. Hail Pitt,” Narduzzi told ESPN afterward. “You only get 12 opportunities, and each one of them is precious. Our kids understand that.”
Miami’s fabled Turnover Chain made a pair of appearances Friday as the Hurricanes recovered two Pittsburgh fumbles. But Miami went three-and-out after each turnover, sending Zach Feagles onto the field for two of his 10 punts on the day. The Hurricanes finished with a season-low 229 yards, and Coach Mark Richt benched quarterback Malik Rosier for a short spell in the second half.
Though it entered Friday’s game undefeated, the Hurricanes had been walking a tightrope for much of the season. Last weekend, they spotted Virginia leads of 14-0 and 28-14 before storming back to win. On Oct. 28, they struggled to put away a truly bad North Carolina team, winning by just five. The week before, Miami let Syracuse creep within one point before Travis Homer sealed a 27-19 win with a late touchdown run.
On Friday, the Hurricanes had no such answers and now face a week of questions about their playoff hopes. The Panthers, meanwhile, won’t be going to a bowl game but were feeling as if they had just won one afterward.
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