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Hurricanes blow Pitt away, 24-3, in regular-season finale

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Hurricanes blow Pitt away, 24-3, in regular-season finale

Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett ran in two  touchdowns during the Panthers' victory over Miami at Heinz Field last year. This year, Pitt lost in a game of ugly offenses. (Photo via Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics)

Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett ran in two touchdowns during the Panthers' victory over Miami at Heinz Field last year. This year, Pitt lost in a game of ugly offenses. (Photo via Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics)

Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics

Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett ran in two touchdowns during the Panthers' victory over Miami at Heinz Field last year. This year, Pitt lost in a game of ugly offenses. (Photo via Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics)

Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics

Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics

Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett ran in two touchdowns during the Panthers' victory over Miami at Heinz Field last year. This year, Pitt lost in a game of ugly offenses. (Photo via Pete Madia/Pitt Athletics)

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

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Call it a Thanksgiving food coma, call it a trap game or whatever else — the Panthers simply didn’t look like themselves at Miami Saturday afternoon, earning a season-low 200 total yards of offense and falling 24-3 to the Hurricanes.

Pitt came into Saturday’s game riding its first four-game win streak — a period where the team averaged an incredible 346 rush yards per game — since 2015. A victory over Miami would’ve given the Panthers their first five-game win streak since 2009.

Instead, the Hurricanes halted the Panthers’ momentum by holding them to a season-low 69 yards on the ground. Pitt’s three points also set a new season low, while sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett got sacked a season-high six times. Throw in the fact that Pitt went one for 15 on third downs, and it was easily the team’s ugliest offensive showing of the season.

The Panthers entered the game with a better record (7-4 overall, 6-1 ACC) than their opponent (6-5 overall, 3-4 ACC) but the writing was on the wall for a defeat. The Hurricanes had vengeance on their mind after Pitt ruined their perfect season in last year’s finale at Heinz Field. Plus, the Panthers didn’t have a lot to play for after clinching the ACC Coastal last week, thus earning a spot in the ACC Championship game versus Clemson. Nothing that happened in this game would change that.

There was also the fact that sophomore center Jimmy Morrissey suffered a season-ending ankle injury last week, causing Pitt to shuffle its offensive line whose core had remained intact for most of the season. Senior guard Connor Dintino shifted over to center while sophomore Bryce Hargrove took his spot, and it’s possible that this unfamiliar alignment caused the Panthers to be battered at the line of scrimmage all game long.

Meaningless game or not, it was discouraging to see Pitt turn in such a poor performance, and fans can only hope the Panthers bring their A-game when they face Clemson with an ACC title on the line.

Pitt’s offense failed to make any significant progress in the first quarter, going four-and-out on each of its first two drives. Miami similarly struggled, going three-and-out on two of its first three drives. Sandwiched between those futile possessions, however, was a 47-yard run from junior running back Travis Homer that set up a 37-yard field goal by first-year kicker Bubba Baxa, giving Miami a 3-0 lead early in the first.

The Panthers finally started to move the ball with a couple minutes left in the quarter, with Pickett finding sophomore receiver Taysir Mack for completions of nine and 21 yards. But the drive came to a halt when senior running back Darrin Hall coughed up an uncharacteristic fumble, allowing Miami to take over around midfield.

While the offense continued to stall, Pitt’s defense held firm, forcing the Hurricanes to punt on their next two possessions.

The Panthers would commit a special teams mishap with 9:08 left in the half, as the punt team missed several tackles on sophomore running back Deejay Dallas, allowing him to take the return all the way back 65 yards for the touchdown. That score put the Hurricanes up 10-0.

In an ugly, penalty-ridden first half — Pitt committed seven penalties for 70 yards compared to zero for Miami — the Panthers finally appeared to catch a break when sophomore linebacker Elias Reynolds forced a fumble, giving Pitt the ball at its own 46 yard line with a chance to score. Yet the Panthers again bungled the opportunity, getting into sophomore kicker Alex Kessman’s field-goal range only to lose eight yards on a reverse play. They punted with 44 seconds left, bringing the half to an end with Miami still pitching a 10-0 shutout.

The teams continued their lack of offensive productivity and midway through the third quarter, Miami first-year quarterback N’Kosi Perry’s statline — four of 21 for just 37 yards — indicated just how sloppy the game had become.

The Panthers finally managed to string together a 7-play, 37-yard drive to get into field-goal range, although “drive” probably isn’t the proper word — their two biggest gains came from a 15-yard personal foul and a 10-yard pass interference penalty on Miami. Nonetheless, Kessman drilled the 40-yard field goal attempt to make the score 10-3 with 3:27 left in the third.

It didn’t take long for the Hurricanes to crack open their lead once again — on the second play of their next drive, Homer took a handoff up the gut then busted it outside, streaking down the right sideline for a 64-yard touchdown to put Miami up 17-3.

After another pitiful Panther possession where Pickett got sacked twice, the Hurricanes drove 81 yards on seven plays, extending their lead to 24-3 on a three-yard rush from Dallas.

From there, Pitt managed to earn just one more first down for the rest of the game, and Miami ran out the clock on its final possession to earn the victory.

Homer was the only offensive player who managed to salvage his statline, finishing with eight carries for 168 yards and a touchdown. In Pitt’s backfield, Ollison and Hall had quiet games for the second straight week, tallying just 28 and 47 rushing yards, respectively. Unlike last week against Wake Forest, Pickett was unable to save the day, completing 14 of his 22 passes for 130 yards and no touchdowns.

Next up, the Panthers (7-5 overall, 6-2 ACC) will travel to Charlotte, N.C. for a date with No. 2 Clemson (12-0 overall, 8-0 ACC) in the ACC Championship, 8 p.m. Dec. 1.

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Hurricanes blow Pitt away, 24-3, in regular-season finale