Senior Day didn’t start positively for Miami, as a banner displaying a disgruntled message flew over Hard Rock Stadium. The banner was another thorn in Miami’s side, as it had already been a turbulent week surrounding the program. With the pre-game festivities finished, it was time for the ‘Canes to focus on beating the team that ended their winning streak a year ago.
Miami couldn’t get anything going on their opening drive but was able to tack on 3 points on the following drive, set-up by a 47-yard run by Travis Homer. Later in the first quarter, Pitt was able to move into Miami territory, but the drive was ended by Jaquan Johnson, who ripped the ball away from Pitt’s Darrin Hall. It was a reminder of how impactful Johnson is and has been, forcing crucial turnovers throughout his Junior and Senior seasons.
Unfortunately, it was apparent that Miami’s receivers hadn’t improved on catching the ball since last week’s contest at Virginia Tech. With how streaky the Miami offense is, botching opportunities can be incredibly costly. The ‘Canes offense would sputter in the first quarter, but still took a 3-point lead into the second quarter.
The game’s first touchdown would come on a 65-yard punt return by DeeJay Dallas, fueled by a huge blindside block by Travis Homer. This made it the second week in a row that Miami had returned a punt for a touchdown, as former-Cane Jeff Thomas took one to the house in Blacksburg a week ago.
Unlike their offense, Miami’s defense was incredibly efficient -- holding Pitt scoreless in the first half. Their performance proved why they’re still one of the nation’s finest groups. The blitz packages and strategies designed by Manny Diaz worked wonderfully, as the unit forced multiple tackles for loss and killed Pitt’s drives as soon as they started.
Led by their shut-down defense, the ‘Canes would take a 10-0 lead into halftime.
Out of the break we hoped to see a sharper offense, but instead, we witnessed more of the same problems that plagued the first half. Miami’s offense remained sloppy, as they expressed confusion on multiple plays, only converting 1 of 9 third downs. Drops were hurting Miami’s offense, but N’Kosi Perry struggled with accuracy, completing just 4 passes on 20 attempts midway through the third quarter.
After another stagnant drive, Pitt was able to score their first points of the game, coming on a 40-yard field goal. However, lightning would strike for the ‘Canes as Travis Homer broke-free for a 64-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive. Miami’s offense went from stale to explosive in a matter of minutes, extending the lead to 14.
After another stop by Miami’s defense, Pitt was forced to punt the ball away. With the punt being shanked for 21 yards, the ‘Canes had a great opportunity to put the game away. Instead, Miami shot themselves in the foot once again as Pitt recovered a fumble by Freshman Cam’Ron Davis. Heading into the fourth quarter, Miami still held a two-touchdown lead but had just squandered a chance to seal the victory.
Despite the offense turning it over again, Miami’s defense stood strong and didn’t give Pitt any breathing room -- forcing yet another 3-and-out for the Panthers. Following the defensive stand, Miami was able to drive down the field and finally put the ‘nail in the coffin.’ The drive began with a 41-yard scamper by N’Kosi Perry and was capped off by a ‘Wildcat’ run by DeeJay Dallas, pushing the score to 24-3 with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The score proved to be the game-sealer, yet Miami drove into Pitt’s territory later in the quarter, only to have a touchdown dropped by Darrell Langham. Regardless, Miami’s domination on defense ensured a stressless conclusion to the game -- a nice farewell for the seniors, as this season has been anything but relaxing. Mark Richt and the ‘Canes now anticipate where their bowl game will take them, hoping to make it 3 wins in a row.