Friday afternoon at Heinz Field couldn't help but feel like a 10th anniversary throwback to Dec. 1, 2007, in Morgantown, West Virginia.
On that night, a 4-7 Pittsburgh team shocked No. 2 West Virginia 13-9 in the Backyard Brawl, in a game in which the Mountaineers managed only 183 total yards and saw their national championship dreams end. This time, another 4-7 Pitt team in another regular-season finale stunned another No. 2 team that's pursuing a national title: The Panthers upset No. 2 Miami 24-14, dealing the Hurricanes their first loss of the season in a game in which they struggled to move the ball on offense all game.
However, there's one enormous difference between the 2007 Pitt upset and the 2017 Pitt upset. This time, the losing team is very much still alive in the national championship race.
Miami already clinched the ACC Coastal and will play Clemson in Charlotte for the conference championship next week. Win that game, and an 11-1 Miami with an ACC title -- an a win over Clemson added to its resume -- will stand a great chance of getting into the playoff.
It's just hard to be confident in the team we saw on Friday at Pitt doing enough to beat Clemson.
The Hurricanes put together one long touchdown drive in the second quarter, but two appearances by the Turnover Chain in the first half resulted in zero points. Late in the second quarter, true freshman Pitt QB Kenny Pickett directed an impressive 68-yard touchdown drive that put the Panthers ahead 10-7 at halftime. With that lead coming out of the locker room, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi confidently spoke of the Panthers' chances of winning, referencing both the 2007 win over No. 2 West Virginia and last year's upset at No. 2 Clemson (which did go on to win the national title anyway):
Narduzzi called it at halftime. pic.twitter.com/wV0c2C1u6Z- ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) November 24, 2017
Pitt followed through, doing everything it needed to do to close out the upset.
Miami punted on its first six possessions in the second half. At one point, coach Mark Richt benched quarterback Malik Rosier with the Hurricanes trailing by 10 and Rosier's accuracy continuing to be erratic. The one possession led by backup Evan Shirreffs lost two yards. Pitt responded by putting the game away, as Pickett led a 12-play, 90-yard drive that took 6 minutes, 10 seconds. On fourth-and-five at the Miami 22-yard line, Pickett ran a bootleg left and got far more than a first down, finding the end zone to put the Panthers ahead 24-7.
Panthers pull it off!- ESPN (@espn) November 24, 2017
7-loss Pitt stuns No. 2 Miami, ending the longest win streak in FBS at 15. pic.twitter.com/AKL214JbvO
The Canes woke up with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Rosier to Braxton Berrios and a recovery on the ensuing onside kick, but Pitt sealed the win by forcing and recovering a Rosier fumble.
Avonte Maddox, who forced the final Miami fumble, is really wearing this chain pic.twitter.com/go7UefBIDg— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) November 24, 2017
Rosier finished the game 15-for-34 for 187 yards and two TDs, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt against the ACC's worst pass defense. Miami abandoned the run and averaged 3.9 yards per play, as it appeared unfocused and out of sync all game.
For much of the season, the Canes played with fire, pulling off close wins against teams with inferior records. They beat Florida State by four, Georgia Tech by one, Syracuse by eight and North Carolina by five. After blowout wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame that solidified their status as a playoff contender, they trailed by 14 in the second half against Virginia before rallying for a 16-ppint win. The rally came too late against Pitt, and the Canes' worst fear all season finally happened.
Miami can still win its first ACC championship since joining the conference in 2004. It can still beat Clemson and likely make the playoff. There's a simple scenario in which Friday's result means little in the big picture, beyond Pitt ending its season on a high note.
But the magic finally ran out, and Miami has one week to regroup and show that Friday was an aberration rather than confirmation that this isn't a playoff-worthy team.