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No. 13 Hurricanes Grind Out 31–19 Win Over ACC Foe Pittsburgh

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The Miami Hurricanes did not fair well against the five-time reigning ACC champion Clemson Tigers in Week 6, but were able to bounce back with a victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers Saturday afternoon.

Miami Hurricanes grind out win vs. Pittsburgh to bounce back from Clemson loss
Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz celebrates his team’s touchdown versus Florida State on Sept. 26, 2020.
Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

D’Eriq King’s 222 passing yards in the Hurricanes’ win against Pittsburgh almost doubled the amount he threw against Clemson on Oct. 10. This time Miami pulled out a 31–19 win, however.

Four touchdowns were the most King had thrown since his arrival to the program, despite also throwing two interceptions on Saturday. But the graduate transfer quarterback and his team were still satisfied with a close win after losing to the No. 1 team in the country.

“I’m always hard on myself,” King said. “[There’s] a lot of room for improvement. I just made some mistakes that I usually don’t, but I’m proud of the team. We came out here and got a win and that’s tough coming off a loss like that [when] you’re always kind of down. But I think we had a great week of practice and we came out here and got a ‘W,’ so that’s the biggest thing.”

Miami did not allow Pittsburgh’s defense to hinder their run game, totaling 109 rushing yards against Panthers defensive coordinator Randy Bates’ defense—one of the best in program history.

“Running for 100 yards on Pitt’s defense, it’s a ton of attempts (42) but that’s not easy,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “I thought those guys did a good job of just being relentless, and when we had a bad play moving on and just playing the next play.”

The ‘Canes were able to get on the board first, as King lobbed a pass over the middle of the Panthers’ defense to running back Cam’Ron Harris for a 35-yard touchdown.

“Rhett and his staff do a great job obviously,” Diaz said. “They’re very creative, and what they do a nice job of is they see potential explosive plays that you don’t have to manufacture by just beating a guy. The ability to have some that you can kind of scheme up puts a lot of stress on the defense.”

King led the team downfield in an 11-play drive that ended with a 6-yard pass to tight end Will Mallory, who replaced injured starter Brevin Jordan (shoulder injury).

“When you got a player like Brevin who’s out for the week, someone’s gotta fill those big shoes,” Mallory said. “Coming in I know I haven’t gotten as many passes or stuff this year but I knew I had to step up and it was a good team win. It’s really easy to score on those wide-open things when the scheme’s that good.”

Pittsburgh quarterback Joey Yellen, who replaced starting quarterback Kenny Pickett (ankle injury), led the Panthers down to Miami’s 15-yard line late in the second quarter. The four-minute drive ended in kicker Alex Kessman’s field goal from the 33-yard line, cutting the ‘Canes lead to 14–3.

Kessman would find himself in almost the same spot with eight seconds to go in the first half, kicking a 24-yard field goal to send both teams to the locker rooms at 14–6.

The Panthers would still turn over the ball three times before the intermission, failing to score on the most critical drives. Scoring only one touchdown accompanied by four field goals, the offense’s lack of playmaking played a major factor in the loss.

“We just didn’t make enough plays, period.” Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi said. “There is plenty of blame to go around, and it starts obviously with me and the coaching staff, and then it trickles down to everyone in that locker room that played it down or didn’t play it down.”

On a drive that barely took two minutes off the clock, the ‘Canes started the third quarter with a 38-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Harley. King and Mallory would connect again for a 45-yard touchdown pass on a 41-second rally, despite another Kessman field goal and a touchdown from Panthers tight end Daniel Moraga.

Pittsburgh would reduce the lead to nine by the beginning of the fourth period. Though kicker Jose Borregales’ 37-yard field goal and the Miami defense would bolster the difference, nonetheless.

“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but you know I thought it was a decent game on the defensive side of the ball. Miami defensive end Quincy Roche said. “I’m really proud of the guys, I thought we had energy on the sideline [and] I thought we executed the calls. We didn’t have as many penalties and mistakes as before, so I definitely think this is a step up from last week.”

Roche was even responsible for forcing the team’s only fumble recovery of the day, after Yellen was sacked and Roche recovered the ball in the middle of the third quarter.

The ‘Canes would close out strong defensively, forcing three consecutive scoreless Panthers drives in the fourth period.

When asked about the keys to winning the game, Diaz mentioned the consistency of the defense and special teams, given the program’s need to rebound.

“The way the defense did a great job setting up the offense, [and] I thought special teams which we knew going in would be massive today,” Diaz said. “Just our ability to pin them back, and it was a ‘grind-it-out’ game. Pat Narduzzi’s a great coach he’s going to make it that way, but we were able to see it through and I’m really proud of our guys.”

Miami will play at Hard Rock Stadium again next Saturday against a 1–2 Virginia Cavaliers team. The ‘Hoos lost to Florida in the 2019 Orange Bowl, after losing to the reigning five-time conference champion Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship.

Pittsburgh will take on Notre Dame next Saturday at home. Notre Dame routed Iowa State 33–9 in the 2019 Camping World Bowl. Notre Dame temporarily stands as an ACC opponent after the Big Ten had initially opted out of play this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.