“The ‘Canes are back, baby!” many an optimistic Miami fan has hollered this season, unchastened by the countless times over the years they’ve chanted this refrain without it actually coming true, and unconcerned about the fact that few non-Floridians under the age of 30 have any first-hand knowledge of this oh-so-glorious past Miami fans are so eager to get “back” to. But yes, coming into today Miami were undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country and only had to brush aside a weak Pitt team before they could turn all their focus to their upcoming mega-matchup against Clemson in the ACC title game next weekend—a game that would give them a great shot of getting back into real national title contention via a spot in the playoff. Only Pitt didn’t prove a willing participant in Miami’s return-to-greatness narrative and beat the Hurricanes by a score of 24-14.
On one hand, this game was a strange one. Miami’s defensive front has been exceptional all year, and it was that front that decimated Notre Dame’s similarly well-respected offensive line in the Hurricane’s marquee victory against the Domers a few weeks back. Today, though, Pitt consistently found room to run in between Miami’s defensive line, racking up 152 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. All those yards and precious minutes Pitt’s running game ate up probably contributed to Miami’s offense failing to ever get into a rhythm—which is probably the biggest story from the game, outside of the loss itself.
After struggling for much of the day, Miami QB Malik Rosier got pulled by coach Mark Richt in the fourth quarter with the game still in reach. This wasn’t injury-related; it was because Richt wasn’t happy with Rosier’s performance. Rosier’s backup oversaw a quick three-and-out during his one series of action, and Pitt scored the touchdown that basically put the game to bed right after. Rosier came back in after Pitt’s late TD with a couple minutes left on the clock, and made things interesting by leading Miami to a quick touchdown and a successfully recovered onside kick, but ultimately he couldn’t finish off what was always going to be an incredibly improbable comeback. Still, the decision to sit Rosier at that moment of the game was bizarre.
As surprising as Miami’s struggles in this particular game against this particular opponent were, it’s hard to say a loss like this wasn’t coming. Besides that supremely impressive routing of Notre Dame, the rest of Miami’s season so far has been riddled with eked-out wins over mediocre opponents. Miami had to really fight to beat unimpressive teams like Florida State, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and North Carolina, and were arguably lucky to come away from all of those without dropping a single one. In that sense, this Pitt loss fits right along with those other less-than-impressive performances that have made up the bulk of the Hurricanes’ season.
Which brings us to the Clemson game. To a certain line of thinking, this Pitt loss probably doesn’t hurt too much. The ACC title game was always going to be the make-or-break game of Miami’s season, and that’s still the case now. If Miami beats Clemson, they’re most likely in the playoff. If they lose, they’re out. This scenario was probably always the case, regardless of whether they lost to Pitt today. Sure, if things happened to break just right for them elsewhere around the country in the next couple weeks, then Miami might have maintained hopes of sneaking into the playoff had they beat Pitt and went on to lose to Clemson, but it would’ve been a long shot. The Clemson game was, and still is, the one that really matters.
However, losing to Pitt today may still prove significant. For one thing, it reveals Miami’s true level. Most everyone already believed Clemson to be the better team, and losing like this to Pitt only strengthens that position. On top of the loss exposing Miami’s already evident points of weakness, the benching of Rosier has the potential to cause some drama that wouldn’t have been there if Miami would’ve romped to victory today the way everyone imagined they would.
And so Miami probably isn’t “back” in the sense that they probably won’t beat Clemson and go on to win the national title and kick off a run of sustained greatness the likes of which ESPN documentaries and the Dan Le Batard Show love to trumpet from Miami’s ancient past. That necklace thing is legitimately pretty cool though.