In 2019 Pitt was on a four game winning streak when Miami came to town. After losing a heartbreaker in Happy Valley, Pitt had knocked off #15 UCF at home, squeaked by Delaware with backup redshirt Freshman Nick Patti under center, won a 33-30 shootout with Duke on the road, and then went on to beat Syracuse by a touchdown in the Carrier Dome. That 4-0 run had Panther nation feeling pretty good. Pretty good indeed.
Next up was a home game against a three-win Miami team whose weaknesses seemed to play right into Pitt’s strengths: The ‘Canes had one of the worst offensive lines in college football, and no quarterback to speak of. Pitt led the nation in sacks and the offense seemed to have gotten on track, scoring 35, 33 and 27 points in its last three games with Pickett under center. Said another way, five wins in a row and a national ranking was seemingly right around the corner.
Well we all know how that ended. Miami came up to Heinz field, held Pitt to 12 points and no TD’s (Pitt for the second time that season failed to score a touchdown first and goal inside the five) and Miami’s backup QB came off the bench to throw the game winning touchdown with 58 seconds left on the clock. Same old Pitt had reared its ugly head again.
And to be clear, Same Old Pitt rears its ugly head pretty often against Miami. In fact, Pitt has won just three times against the Hurricanes since 1984. Let that sink in for a moment. Three times in the last twenty-four tries. Three times. For those of you with an analytical mindset, that’s a 12.5% winning percentage. Same Old Pitt indeed.
Kenny Pickett, of course, owns one of those wins. It was his historic full-game debut in 2017 that knocked the hated ‘Canes out of playoff contention. The following year, Pitt played Miami on the road after locking up the Coastal Division championship. You’ll recall Pickett wasn’t much of a passer that year, and the beleaguered Pitt offense mustered three points (losing all-ACC Center Jimmy Morrissey to a knee injury in the previous game didn’t help, but I’m still not convinced it would have changed the outcome). Then came the aforementioned 16-12 debacle at Heinz in 2019. Last year Joey Yellen subbed for an injured Pickett in Miami Gardens, and Pitt lost 31-19.
But this year is different. Pickett is a much improved passer, and Pitt is routinely outscoring its opponents by 20 points or more. For the record, the Panthers outscored their opponents by a mere 4.5 points per game last year, and Pitt was outscored by their opponents by about a point per game both in 2019 and 2018. Meanwhile Pitt’s defense has tightened up after the Western Michigan game. They’ve given up an average of 15 points per game in their last three. (Although it’s fair to say that playing the likes of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and this-years-version-of-Clemson is hardly a test for a defense. But…on the other hand it’s also fair to point out that WMU lost to Ball State and Toledo, scoring a combined 25 points in the process, so believe what you want to believe.)
Still, Randy Bates’ squad is confident if nothing else, and they are making plays, and Miami comes into the game starting a true Freshman quarterback and sporting a 20% chance of winning, per ESPN. Their quarterback, Tyler Van Dyke, seems to have found his sea legs against then-number-eighteen NC State, shredding what was a pretty competent defense to the tune of 325 yards and four TD’s last week. It was Van Dyke’s third complete game against power 5 competition, and you could consider it a breakout.
And so… assuming the young Van Dyke doesn’t regress, Pitt will have its hands full on Saturday, as it always does, against the hated ‘Canes. The hope of course is that Van Dyke does regress, or that the road game knocks him out of his rhythm, or at the very least Pitt’s blitz package does. Or that Miami has a hangover from an emotional win against a ranked team. Or that a team that is starting 12 true and redshirt freshman experiences the ups and downs of starting 12 true and redshirt freshman. But the bigger hope is that Pitt simply plays to potential. Stars and recruiting aside, it’s not a stretch to say that the Panthers are the better team this year, if they can just avoid the Same Old Pitfalls.
Hail to Pitt