By J.T. Wilcox | Staff Writer
There seemed to be two versions of the Hurricanes team on the field Friday.
The squad that scored 17 first quarter points and held a 20-0 lead not even 20 minutes into the game.
And there was the team that gave up two fourth quarter touchdowns and was only able to produce three field goals in the second half.
Luckily, they combined to produce a 29-24 win over host Pittsburgh Friday afternoon at Heinz Field – giving the Canes their fourth win in five games.
Miami (8-4, 5-3 ACC) led 29-10 with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Pittsburgh (8-4, 6-2) made fans squirm late, scoring two touchdowns in the final minutes and actually getting the ball back with 11 seconds left. The Panthers tried a “Miami-esque” backwards pass play, but it folded when the ball rolled out of bounds after as Canes defenders pushed the play towards the sideline.
Hurricanes sophomore running back Joe Yearby finished with 99 yards on 22 carries, senior receiver Rashawn Scott had seven catches for 74 yards and a touchdown, Mark Walton had a game-high 80 receiving yards and Brad Kaaya completed 21 of his 35 passes for 261 yards with both a passing and a rushing score.
Miami kicker Michael Badgley was the team’s best weapon Friday. The sophomore, who tied the school record for longest field goal, broke another UM record on Black Friday – totaling 25 made fields on the season, surpassing Jon Peattie’s record of 23 set in 2003.
UM went 4-1 under interim head coach Larry Scott, the loss coming two weeks ago at ACC Coastal division winner North Carolina. Coaching search aside, Miami now awaits an invitation to a bowl game and will have the chance to win its first postseason bowl game since 2006.
After the game, Scott let his emotion flow out while speaking to the media.
“I’m proud of these guys, proud of this football team,” Scott said before asking for a moment to fight back tears. “When you coach you teach kids that there’s a way to do things and a way no to do things. That’s all we went to work on because we always knew we had a talented football team. But we weren’t as detailed – all the time – on the little things that we needed to be really good…and we’re still working on that, that’s a work in progress.”
“But the kids bought in, they did everything that we asked them to and more. And you’re happy to see that when they do buy in and they believe in each other and play for the right reasons – pride, commitment and the brand they represent – you’re hard to beat…hard to beat,” Scott said.
Overall Grade = C-plus
Miami finished the season on a positive note Friday. It showed a lot of resolve and character for this team not to fold into itself following the blowout loss to Clemson – which resulted in the firing of Al Golden – or the blowout loss at North Carolina.
Going 4-1 under interim coach Scott goes a long way in showing that he’s someone that deserves to still be on coaching staff despite what changes are made.
Still, as good as Miami looked early on in this game it was almost that bad in the second half.
Starting the game off with a 75-yard scoring drive, then a field goal, then a quick touchdown strike; Miami was up 17-0 before Pitt knew what had hit it.
Then the offense lost its spark and began to settle for field goals – Badgley came through each time – but not being able to at least two touchdowns on those second half drives left the door open for the Panthers.
I maintain that the Hurricanes are a team that hovers around average. Some games they’re slightly above and on other days they are a little below.
Quarterback = B-minus
Kaaya did some good things Friday.
Once again, he took care of the ball – which is always a plus.
But he also showed once again that he can escape and roll from the pocket and make some pretty high-level throws on the run and under duress.
Kaaya is arguably the best passing quarterback in the ACC and he’s showing the physical tools and throwing skills that excites NFL scouts.
The one knock on Kaaya that been seen all season surfaced again Friday against Pitt. The knock is that he’ll make a handful of throws off of his back foot which increases the chances of throwing an interception. He usually does it when the protection has broken down in front of him, but it’s still something he needs to work on.
But Kaaya made some throws – his 22-yard touchdown pass and a 41-yard pass to Walton during the fourth quarter – that make you appreciate even more that he’ll be in a Hurricanes uniform for at least one more year.
Running Backs = B-plus
Yearby ran very hard Friday.
After going through some off-field issues leading up to this season, “Novocain” Yearby has solidified his status as Miami’s top running back.
Yearby was the star of Miami’s first touchdown drive, gaining 57 yards. Statistically, Yearby’s impact wasn’t as big because he only produced 42 more yards over the final three quarters, but he ran hard on the rest of those carries and picked up a tough yardage late.
Walton finished with just 19 rushing yards, but his value increases as a receiver out of the backfield that creates major mismatches against opposing linebackers.
There was a Trayone “Choc” Gray sighting in the first quarter – one first quarter carry for two yards – but nothing more than that. Also, Gage Badden had his named called Friday too; sadly it was for picking up an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends = B-minus
Senior Rashawn Scott showed why his presence will be missed once in this group.
He hauled in a game-high seven catches for 74 yards and made an uber-athletic play on his first quarter touchdown grab. Tight end David Njoku had five catches for 39 yards and Stacy Coley finishing with three receptions for 45 yards.
The overall offensive production waned over the final two and a half quarters of the game, but the receivers did have a couple of dropped passes in the second half. Senior Herb Waters had a drop that would’ve given the team a first down and kept its drive alive.
Still though, the lack of touchdowns over the final 45 minutes isn’t solely the receivers’ fault.
Not for nothing, tight end Chris Herndon recovered Pittsburgh’s onside kick attempt after the Panthers made the score 29-24 with just over a minute to play.
Offensive Line = C
Friday might have been this group’s least head-shaking performance.
Miami still struggled to run the ball effectively – just 116 rushing yards on 2.9 yards per carry. When the Hurricanes could have put the game on ice in the fourth quarter, needing only a first down, the offensive line was unable to open up adequate running lanes.
On the bright side, Kaaya was not sacked Friday. He was hit a couple of times and did get some pressure in the pocket, but no official sacks were registered.
Defensive Line = C
Early on the defensive line played pretty well.
Al-Quadin Muhammad and Calvin Heurtelou combined for a sack – although Muhammad was credited for the sack alone. Heurtelou did lead the team with four solo tackles, though.
Unfortunately as the game went on, the Panthers were able to start finding running lanes against UM’s defensive line. Pitt’s Darrin Hall’s third quarter 35-yard touchdown run was a gash through all three levels of the defense.
By the time Pitt had the fourth quarter momentum, UM’s defensive line was unable to make any more drive-halting plays.
Linebackers = C-plus
Like the guys in front of them, Miami’s linebackers were solid early in the game but their performance overall waned as time went on.
You could see that the defense was feeding off the early energy and came out with a decent game plan, but Pittsburgh began to find soft spots and find ways to plays.
Tyriq McCord also had a sack Friday, along with recording four total tackles. Also, Juwon Young had three tackles.
The low point came in fourth quarter when Jermaine Grace was “blocked” by the umpire – running into the official in pass coverage and falling to the ground as a Panthers receiver ran for a handful of yards after the catch.
Defensive Backs = C-plus
The good was Artie Burns’ sixth interception of the year, a pass which he picked off during the first quarter.
Miami missed out on another INT when Rayshawn Jenkins and Corn Elder got in each other’s way and let an errant pass fall to ground.
Also, Corn Elder showed that there’s little he can’t do on a football field as he registered a quarterback sack on a corner blitz.
Beyond that, UM’s defensive backfield did was slightly above average in coverage – including a nice pass breakup by Tracy Howard – and they did enough to not to get the Canes beat.
Special Teams B-plus
Most of this grade goes to “Jersey Mike” Badgley.
Him knocking in five field goals and breaking the school’s single-season record for made field goals.
The other bright spot was a Justin Vogel punt that was downed inside the Panthers 2-yard line.
Besides that, Miami’s kickoff return coverage wasn’t great Friday – it gave up an 89-yard return which set up Pitt’s first fourth quarter touchdown. Also, Braxton Berrios made a couple of highly risky choices in kick returns.