The game plan for Saturday night was supposed to be simple. Get Duke Johnson the ball enough times in the first quarter to get the record for most career rushing yardage early, and then skate to an easy victory over an easy opponent that lost at home to Akron.
The only problem with that scenario was that no one told that to James Conner and the Pitt Panthers, who came into the game with a 5-6 record and a 3-4 record in the ACC. For the second week in a row, the Miami Hurricanes played down to the record of their opponents and lost a game that they should have won.
Johnson did get the record, albeit in the third quarter, but Pitt defeated Miami 35-23 before an announced crowd of 61,106 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. The win for Pittsburgh makes them bowl eligible.
"I am really disappointed in how we played tonight," Miami coach Al Golden said as he addressed the media after the game. "It is truly frustrating because we have a lot of guys in that locker room that worked very hard all week to prepare for this game"
Conner, who came into the game with a bruised hip, rushed for 75 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Chad Voytik threw for a score and ran for another. His rushing touchdown, a one-yard dive, gave Pitt an insurmountable 35-23 lead with 13:13 to play in the game.
The Canes had no answer for Conner the entire night as he was making big plays all throughout the first half. It is not like he was a surprise to anyone as he entered the game as the nation's third-leading rusher with 1,600 yards. The sophomore also averages more than two touchdowns a game.
"We did not stop them on enough third down plays and we did not have any takeaways," Golden said after the game. "You have to make them go on a long field and we could not do that. They had a much shorter field than we did. We did not get the distance out of our kickoffs like their guy did."
Miami struggled again on special teams. The Panthers averaged just over 46 yards per return, while Miami averaged 29.3. Pitt also had two touchbacks while Miami's Justin Vogel could not hit the end zone on any of his kickoffs.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya had the team at the Pitt 5-yard line and his fourth and goal pass fell incomplete. When Miami turned it over on downs, the game essentially ended for the Hurricanes, who have completed their regular season with a record of 6-6.
Kaaya finished the game 22 of 45 for 296 yards and two scores. Unfortunately,the freshman as 8 of 26 in the second half when the pressure was mounting and the game fell on his shoulders. Johnson ended up with with 89 yards on 18 carries. He also had three catches for 16 yards and a touchdown. Philip Dorsett led the Hurricanes in receiving with five catches for 103 yards and one score.
With the loss, Golden has the same identical record that Randy Shannon had before he was relieved of his duties in 2010. Miami will play in a meaningless bowl game to finish this season, but it is hardly worth celebrating. The only question that many fans have at this point, after four years of Al Golden, whether Golden will meet the same fate as Shannon.
"I have no message right now," Golden said when asked what type of message he will deliver to recruits."Obviously we think there are still a lot of positives. It would be fruitless for me to talk about it right now. It wouldn't be fair."
Golden as asked if the team is better than their record and he stood at the lecturn with a stoic look and essentially said that their record is a reflection of what the season bore out.
"We are responsible for the record that we have. I'm responsible for the record. What our record is, is, period. I am disappointed."
Johnson broke the record on this night, with an 11 yard run in the third quarter, but he said that it did not have the same feel as it would have had given the fact that UM lost its second straight home game and third straight overall.
"It's satisfying and disappointing," Johnson said after the game. "You want a victory when you reach a milestone like that. This is a credit, though, to everyone in the organization, not just me. It's an honor. When you look at all the great backs that came before me. It's just a tremendous honor."
Golden was sorry that Duke did not get the win to go along with the record.
"I wish it was a better environment to celebrate what he accomplished in such a short period of time," Golden said. "He is a unique young man and it is an honor to coach him."
Pittsburgh started off the game with the ball and returned the opening kickoff 40 yards to set up shop at their own 40 yard line. The Panthers marched 60 yards in four plays as Conner scored his first touchdown of the night on a 13-yard run to give the Panthers a quick 7-0 lead. The touchdown for Conner was his 24th rushing touchdown of the season. That eclipsed Tony Dorsett's mark that he set in 1976.
It should be noted that Miami is not a very productive come from behind team. Golden, in his career, is 3-17 when trailing at the half.
"They are a tough team to play when they have the lead, That's their M.O." Golden said. "I am disappointed that we did not respond better on that first drive. We knew that we had to play better than that."
Miami answered with a 40 yard Michael Badgley field goal on their first drive. The drive lasted 11 plays and the Canes drove 52 yards in just under five minutes. They key to the drive was a 19 yard strike from Kaaya to Malcolm Lewis on a third and seven play that Miami converted to a first down.
Voytik then got the ball back and directed another long drive for the Panthers. The Panthers pushed the UM defense around for 82 yards before connecting with Tyler Boyd for a 12 yard touchdown and a 14-3 Pitt lead.
That is how the first quarter ended.
Kaaya then led the Canes on a touchdown drive of their own as they moved 79 yards in four plays. Kaaya found a streaking Philip Dorsett who scored from 51 yards out to cut the Panthers lead to 14-10.
Conner scored his second touchdown of the game on a two year run to increase Pitt's lead to 21-10.
Badgley then kicked a field goal of 48 yards for UM, who tightened the score to 21-13. That is how the half ended. Duke was still seven yards short of the record at the half.
Miami got as close as one point, in the third quarter, at 21-20, after a Johnson touchdown catch, but could not sustain the momentum that they had coming out of the locker room. They gave Pitt a touchdown on the next drive and could not catch up.
This is the second straight season that Miami has played poorly after its loss to Florida State. Miami started last season 7-0 before losing in Tallahassee and then went on to lose four of its next six, including their bowl game. This season, following the loss at home to the Seminoles, the Hurricanes have managed to lose to FSU and its following two games
"We had our best week of practice after the FSU game," Johnson said. "We just are not executing. We are not doing our part. We have a lot of talent on this team. We are just not showing it."