The Pittsburgh Panthers ended their season by shaking up the college football playoff picture with a massive upset of the previously-ranked #2 Miami Hurricanes. The Panthers won 24-14 on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field, most likely ruining the dreams of the resurgent Miami program to reach the National Championship.
For the second straight season, the Panthers pulled off an upset over the nation’s second ranked team in the month of November, with a team nowhere near as talented as the one that beat Clemson 36-35 in 2016. The Panthers were led by the play of freshman QB Kenny Pickett who went 18 for 23 with 253 total yards and accounted for all three touchdowns for Pitt. Pitt was also led by a defense that allowed 212 total yards and 14 points. The Panthers definitely treated this game like their bowl game and came out with their intensity and desire to spoil the hopes of their former Big East and current ACC rival.
Here are some takeaways and observations form Friday’s season ending victory.
Pickett was undoubtedly the star of today’s game with his ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. He also displayed his moxie and ability to take control of the offense, especially in critical situations (third downs, at the end of the half, and the four minute offense). On their first touchdown drive, the Panthers went 12 plays and 75 yards, culminating in an amazing 6 yard scramble by Pickett which looked like the John Elway helicopter run in the Super Bowl 20 years ago. On their final scoring drive in the fourth quarter, Pickett led a 12 play, 90 yard drive that ended on a 22 yard run by Pickett that took 6 minutes and 48 yards off the clock. The Panther went 9 for 17 on third down conversions and the infamous “Turnover Chain” only arrived twice on Friday.
The Panthers defense gave their best performance of the season on Friday. The Panthers only gave up 212 total yards, including 41 rushing yards. Malik Rosier was only 15 for 34 for 124 yards and a touchdown. Rosier was benched briefly in the fourth quarter in favor of Evan Shirreffs, but returned to the game to throw a late touchdown to Braxton Berrios to make the score 24-14. The Panthers held Miami to 4 for 17 on third down and sacked Rosier four times on Friday. Avonte Maddox was the star of the game with two sacks and two passes defensed, including the sack that forced the fumble to seal the upset.
The Panthers only lose eight seniors from their two-deep depth chart for 2018, and they seem to have found their quarterback of the future in Pickett. The key is growth in the offensive personnel and the familiarity in offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s system. The defense seemed to play better as the season went along and will benefit from another year of growing as well.
The Panthers will open the 2018 season at Heinz Field against Albany on Sept 1.