Van Dyke dices up Panther defense as Miami defeats Pitt 38-34

By Frankie Richetti, Staff Writer

The Miami Hurricanes took down the Panthers 38-34 at Heinz Field on Saturday, behind first-year quarterback Tyler Van Dyke’s big day, throwing for 428 yards and three touchdowns.

Behind Van Dyke, the Hurricanes entered the stadium energized, with newfound confidence coming off last week’s win over previously ranked No. 18 NC State.

The Panthers came into the game ranked No. 17 in the AP Pollits highest mid-season ranking since 2009 — providing Miami the opportunity to make program history. The Hurricanes have never won back-to-back games against ranked opponents as an unranked team in its history, a feat they accomplished Saturday.

Pitt seemed to come out levelheaded and ready to play as Pickett connected with first-year tight end Gavin Bartholomew and senior wide receiver Taysir Mack for long gains, setting the Panthers up at the 1-yard line. Sophomore running back Israel Abanikanda did the rest, plunging into the end zone to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead

The Panthers rushing attack didn’t have many opportunities after that point and head coach Pat Narduzzi believed it was an effect of getting behind early.

“We were playing from behind early,” Narduzzi said. “It was more about what we did than what they did.”

Van Dyke showed poise early in the game, connecting with first-year receiver Key’Shawn Smith on a 57-yard connection to quickly put Miami deep in Pitt territory. Shortly after, the first-year quarterback found first-year tight end Elijah Arroyo on a 20-yard touchdown pass, deadlocking the game at seven.

After the Panthers opted to go for the first down on fourth down and failed, the Hurricanes had the opportunity to take the lead. They did just that. Just three plays into the drive, Van Dyke found tight end junior Will Mallory for a 57-yard score, putting the Hurricanes up 14-7.

Pitt went three-and-out on its next drive and promptly surrendered another score. First-year running back Jaylan Knighton found the endzone on the second play of the Hurricanes’ drive, rushing 40 yards for the score to seize a 21-7 lead. Junior linebacker SirVocea Dennis said postgame that missed tackles proved costly.

“We just gotta make tackles, to be honest we just gotta make plays,” Dennis said. “I don’t think we did that well enough tonight, and on that drive and on that play.”

Miami amassed more than 200 yards on its first 10 plays of the game. The Panthers responded with a lengthy drive getting into the red zone, but the Hurricane defense didn’t break, forcing a Pitt field goal attempt that sophomore Sam Scarton converted, trimming the deficit to 11 points.

The final play of the first quarter was a record breaker for Pickett, whose 39-yard pass to sophomore Jordan Addison propelled him over Alex Van Pelt for the highest total offensive yardage in Pitt football history. Pickett capped off his historic drive with a touchdown pass to Abanikanda to pull the Panthers within four.

A 34-yard punt from junior punter Lou Hedley granted the Panthers favorable field positioning, and started their drive at the Miami 45-yard line. It was ultimately for naught, as Pickett threw his second interception of the season on the drive’s first play. Knighton found the end zone four plays later for his second touchdown of the day, putting the Hurricanes up 31-17 — sucking the energy out of the home crowd.

The Panthers drove down the field at the end of half and Narduzzi sent his kicking unit out to attempt a 49-yard field goal. The kick went wide of the upright and the Panthers came up empty, leaving Miami to take a 31-17 lead into the half.

On the Panthers’ first chance offensively in the second half, sophomore wide receiver Jaylon Barden had his best punt return all season, returning it 32 yards to set the Panthers up at the Miami 27-yard line.

The Panthers capitalized this time. Pickett found junior wide receiver Jared Wayne in the end zone for a 12-yard score. The score catapulted Pickett over Dan Marino for all-time touchdowns, with 83.

The momentum began to shift as the Panthers stopped the Hurricane offense on consecutive drives to open the half. Pickett again charged down the field, leading a 91-yard drive, ending with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Barden, tying the game at 31.

The game was not tied for long, with the Hurricanes having an answer for everything the Panthers threw at them. The Hurricanes took the lead the ensuing drive, with Van Dyke connecting with Smith yet again, this time for a 13-yard touchdown that gave them a 38-31 lead.

The Panthers stormed down the field and got inside the Miami 10-yard line, but the Hurricane defense held strong again. The Panthers settled for a field goal to cut the deficit to four.

The Hurricanes threatened to put the game out of reach, but super-senior linebacker John Petrishen picked off Van Dyke, giving the Panthers their first chance to take the lead since the opening drive of the game.

Pickett drove the Panthers deep into Miami territory then threw his second interception of the game, giving the Hurricanes a chance to put the game away. Addison said he and Pickett weren’t on the same page on that play.

“It was a miscommunication,” Addison said. “I feel like I could have turned my head sooner to see the ball but we will get it fixed.”

The Panthers were inches away from a safety on the first play of the drive, which would have given the ball back to the Pitt offense, but officials deemed that Knighton got out of the end zone. Petrishen said postgame that the defense needed to respond better to the controversial call. 

“No matter what the call is, you gotta snap back up and go to the next play,” Petrishen said. “I was trying to rally the troops after that call because I saw guys were frustrated. You gotta move on, no matter what the call is.”

The Hurricanes picked up a first down on that same drive, but sophomore safety Brandon Hill forced a fumble and knocked the ball behind the first down marker, short of the sticks, bringing up a fourth down. After review, the ball was re-spotted at the 29-yard line, good enough for a first down, effectively ending the game at 38-34.

The Panthers’ already slim playoff hopes faded Saturday in a loss that embodied why football is a game of inches.

Pitt will be back in action next Saturday at noon against the Duke Blue Devils on ACC Network.

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