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Mistakes Cost Pitt Against Miami

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb recaps Miami's win over Pittsburgh and the missed opportunities for the Panthers.

The Miami Hurricanes stormed into Heinz Field and spoiled Pitt’s playoff chances Saturday. Redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was terrific, throwing for 428 yards and three touchdowns.

But that won’t be the story of this game from Pitt’s perspective. Van Dyke and the Hurricanes will become an afterthought around the ACC too if the conference is shut out of the College Football Playoffs for the first time in history.

Thanks to a plethora of Panthers’ mistakes and three reviews that went in favor of the Hurricanes, along with Van Dyke’s career day, Miami edged Pitt in Pittsburgh, 38-34.

The Panthers opened the game with a touchdown lead, but Miami responded in about a minute and 30 seconds to tie the game. Pitt wouldn’t lead again, and behind Van Dyke’s incredible first half, the Hurricanes led at halftime by 14 points.

Of Van Dyke’s 428 passing yards, 267 of them came in the first half. The Hurricanes scored all but seven of their points -- 31 -- in the first two quarters.

Kenny Pickett and the Panthers answered early in the third quarter to tie the game at 31, but whenever they had the opportunity to take command of the game, something happened that opened the door again for the Hurricanes.

Penalties have been a problem for Pitt all season, and they were definitely a big factor Saturday. The Panthers committed nine accepted fouls for 108 yards, which was a season high. The penalties extended Miami drives and stalled Pitt possessions.

Pickett also threw two interceptions. Miami scored a touchdown off the first pick in the second quarter. Pickett’s second interception came with 4:07 remaining in the game, and Pitt trailing by four. The Panthers didn’t possess the ball again after that pick.

The interception was the first of three reviews in the final 4:30 that went in favor of the Hurricanes. Miami freshman safety James Williams dove to intercept Pickett’s pass inside the Hurricanes 5-yard line, but when Williams rolled over, he no longer had the ball. Apparently, there wasn’t evidence to overturn the call of interception on the field.

The same was true on the next play. Pitt’s defense stonewalled Miami running back Jaylan Knighton for a 1-yard loss. The Panthers players were calling for a safety, but the officials ruled Knighton made it back to about the 3-inch line. Without a conclusive camera angle to say otherwise, Miami avoided giving up two points and the ball.

Four plays later, the Hurricanes faced a third-and-4 with 2:46 remaining. Pitt had used all its timeouts, so a game that saw both teams combine for more than 1,000 yards was coming down to a third-and-short conversion attempt.

A completion to Will Mallory for six yards gave Miami a first down and seemingly the game. But then Mallory fumbled, and the ball rolled out of bounds backwards two yards. On the field, the officials ruled the next play would be fourth down.

However, the cameras had a good shot of this play, and the replays indicated well enough that the ball didn’t roll as far back out of bounds as the officials ruled on the field. So the spot moved forward a couple feet, which was easily enough for a first down.

Miami kneeled on the ball after that to seal the win.

Those three close reviews are a tough pill to swallow for Pitt. The complaint I have is the officiating crew stayed with the call on the field for the “almost safety” play and then overturned the fumble moving backwards on third down, but in both reviews, there was no down the line camera shot.

It looks as though the ball rolling backwards on third down stayed in front of the first-down stick, but can we say that for sure since the angle was from the sky and 10 yards in front of the first-down line?

The reverse angle and a shot straight down the first-down line would have provided different views. With the logic the officials used to overturn the fourth-down call, the front of the line shot of Knighton not appearing to make it beyond the goal line should have been enough to rule that play a safety.

At the very least, Pitt was unlucky there were better (although not perfect) replays for the play Miami needed overturned.

Regardless of the reviews, Pitt shouldn’t have been in a situation that left the game to the officials. The Panthers were flat on defense coming off a big win against Clemson, and Pickett threw two interceptions in a game for the first time this season. He only had one pick all year coming into Saturday.

The Panthers can still accomplish a lot this season. They are still in control of the ACC Coastal and can win their first ACC title. A New Year’s Six bowl isn’t out of the question either.

But the playoffs are off the table. It may be off the table for the ACC too.