Pitt falls to Miami, 41-31, in regular season finale

Before their game Friday against Pitt, many Miami players took the field for warmups with no shirts on, presumably showing that November weather in Pittsburgh wasn't going to bother them.

Less than four minutes into the game, Hurricanes receiver Stacy Coley made it clear he was perfectly comfortable, especially in the north end zone of Heinz Field.

Helped by some crucial Pitt mistakes, Miami jumped to a two-touchdown lead in the first 3:30 and barely looked back, rolling to a 41-31 victory against the Panthers.

"We were shocked a little bit," Pitt safety Jason Hendricks said of Miami's fast start. "We pulled it together. We knew it was a long game and we had to keep playing."

The Panthers rallied to make the final score respectable, even if their was little doubt which team was going to win the game.

Pitt didn't waste any time putting itself in a hole.

Lafayette Pitts fumbled the opening kickoff to give Miami the ball at the Pitt 35. Three plays later, Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris found Coley wide open on what Pitt coach Paul Chryst described as "busted coverage" for a 32-yard touchdown pass.

After a three-and-out by Pitt, the Hurricanes got the ball back in Panthers territory again when Matt Yoklic's punt was partially blocked and went just 9 yards. This time, it was a 34-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Coley, and the Panthers were reeling.

"It's hard to beat a good team with a lot of mistakes early," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "You can't win games like this."

The Panthers responded on their next drive, which was capped off by a 45-yard touchdown run from Isaac Bennett, who finished with 141 yards.

Pitt drove the ball inside the Miami 25 twice later in the first half, but had to settle for two field-goal attempts -- one made, one missed -- by Chris Blewitt.

"[Miami] is too good of a team to be down in the red zone and not take advantage of it," said quarterback Tom Savage, who completed 24 of 43 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw one interception.

The defense couldn't get a stop to aid the comeback effort, either. Miami outscored the Panthers, 17-3, the rest of the half to take a 31-10 lead into halftime.

On their final drive of the second quarter, the Hurricanes took over at their 26and appeared content to run out the clock and take a 14-point lead into the locker room.

On the second play, though, Coley took a wide-receiver reverse 73 yards for a backbreaking touchdown.

Coley finished with a 146 total yards and three touchdowns, and fellow receiver Allen Hurns had nine catches for 173 yards.

"Our guys respect their speed, but you've got to be careful of respecting it too much," Chryst said. "We've still got to challenge them."

The closest Pitt came in the second half was when quarterback Tom Savage capped off a plodding 13-play, 95-yard drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Rachid Ibrahim.

The comeback effort effectively ended on the next series, though, when Miami took the ball 78 yards in seven plays and ate 3:56 off the clock to go ahead, 41-24, with 3:42 left.

Chryst said after the game that his biggest concern was a lack of trust in his players, mostly in themselves.

"Obviously, when you miss tackles, it has to weigh down in your confidence in some way, especially in space with such a fast team," linebacker Anthony Gonzalez said. "That's the only thing I can see."

The Hurricanes also did an effective job stopping Donald from racking up his usual impressive stat line. Up for nearly every major individual defensive award, he finished with three tackles (one solo) and 0.5 tackles for loss.

"I got a lot of double-teams, a lot of slide protection, but, hey, it's a sign of respect," Donald said. "It is what it is."

With the loss, Pitt dropped a chance to finish with a winning season for the first time since 2010.

Now, the Panthers likely must wait until next week to find out their bowl destination. They could get one of the lower-tier ACC bowls, but the league has more eligible teams than bowl tie-ins.

As a result, Pitt might instead have to take another conference's bowl slot.

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG First Published November 29, 2013 7:03 PM

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