The bad news came early and often for Pitt on Saturday
Quarterback Kenny Pickett, still ailing from an injured ankle sustained against Boston College, did not travel with the team to Miami.
The loss of their offensive leader, who kept the Panthers in games in recent weeks, was too much to overcome and the Panthers fell to the No. 13 Hurricanes, 31-19.
Many of the issues that have plagued the Panthers (3-3, 2-3) all season continued against the Hurricanes (4-1, 3-1). In addition to settling for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns in the red zone, the Panthers again committed too many penalties, gave up too many big plays, dropped too many balls, failed to convert in short yardage situations, and failed to run the ball effectively.
“It starts with the run game. We've got to get some movement up front,” Narduzzi said. "We've got to find a way to get the run game going. We get in the red zone, we can’t kick four field goals.”
Pitt rushed the ball 26 times for only 22 yards – an average of 0.8 yards per carry.
The Panthers came into the day as one of the most penalized teams in college football and finished the day with 10 flags for 89 yards against Miami. At one point late in the first half, the Panthers had more penalty yards than offensive yards.
“It starts with me,” Narduzzi said regarding the penalties. “We shoot ourselves in the foot. It comes down to coaching. We've got to do a better job of coaching them and getting the details out of them.”
Hurricanes’ quarterback D’Eriq King completed 16 of 31 passes and was picked off twice, but his four touchdown passes were the difference in the game.
Three of Miami’s four touchdown drives began in Pitt territory, coming on the heels of a penalty, a failed fake punt and a turnover.
The Pitt defense limited King and leading rusher Cam’Ron Harris to 32 and 24 rushing yards, respectively. It wasn’t enough, as Pitt’s defense again got burned in the passing game, allowing touchdown receptions of 35, 38, and 45 yards. The Panthers have allowed eight touchdowns of 25-plus yards in their last three game.
Pitt trailed 14-0 late in the first half following a 35-yard touchdown catch by Harris and a 6-yard touchdown reception by Miami backup tight end Will Mallory, who started in place of the injured Brevin Jordan.
The Panthers’ offense failed to score for the first 27 minutes of the game.
Joey Yellen started the game at quarterback but split time with Davis Beville early, before Pitt’s coaching staff settled on Yellen. Yellen finished the day completing 22 of 46 passes for 277 yards and one touchdown.
Pitt first scored with 2:43 remaining in the first half following a sustained drive by the offense but had to settle for a field goal after Yellen was sacked on third down.
Pitt struck again quickly, as strong safety Paris Ford picked off King on the ensuing Miami drive. Ford returned the interception 35 yards to the Miami 12, but Pitt’s offense again stalled, and Alex Kessman made his second field goal of the day.
The Panthers trailed 14-6 at halftime.
Miami scored on its opening drive of the third quarter, as King connected with Mike Harley for a 38-yard touchdown. On Pitt’s opening possession of the second half, Yellen hit true freshman wide receiver Jordan Addison on 55-yard pass deep into Miami territory. Pitt again sputtered in the red zone and kicked another field goal.
Addison was a bright spot for the Panthers, catching eight balls for 147 yards.
On the next Miami drive, King was intercepted by cornerback Marquis Williams, who returned the pick 38 yards to the Miami 1-yard line. On the next play, Pitt scored its first and only touchdown of the day on a play-action pass to tight end Daniel Moraga and the Panthers trailed 21-16.
Pitt’s defense forced a quick three-and-out, but Yellen was sacked and fumbled on the next offensive possession and it was recovered by Miami. The Hurricanes needed just two plays before King and Mallory connected again, this time for a 45-yard touchdown.
Trailing 28-16 late in the third quarter, Pitt faced fourth-and-three from the Miami 12. Narduzzi opted to kick a field goal. Kessman made the kick, but the Panthers still faced a two-score deficit with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.
“You want to go for it on one hand and you want to take points,” Narduzzi said. “There was still plenty of time left; I think you gotta take the points.”
Miami’s defense shut Pitt out in the final quarter, handing the Panthers their third consecutive loss.
The Panthers will return home to face No. 4 Notre Dame next week before their bye week. It wasn't known if Pickett will be suiting up against the Fighting Irish.
“We expect Kenny to be back ASAP,” Narduzzi said. “Will he be back next weekend? I don’t know. There’s a chance. I certainly hope after the open weekend for sure.”