Pitt’s 2022 regular season finale was simply brilliant.
Perfect for the night. Perfect for the season. Perfect for the last 17 years. And perfect for the last 60 years.
60 years ago – 59 years to be exact – Pitt defeated Miami in the Orange Bowl in the penultimate game of the 1963 regular season. The Panthers would not win another 51 years away against the Hurricanes and broke their long streak with a win in the 2014 regular season finale. This was their last game in Miami before Saturday night.
When you only do something three times in 60 years, that’s pretty remarkable.
17 years ago, the ACC switched to a divisional model, dividing its then 12-team league into the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. Pitt’s game in Miami was the Coastal Division’s final game as from 2023 the conference will switch to a single league format.
If there was any viable way for the Coastal to take his final rest, it was Pitt’s big win in Miami, where the ACC’s newcomers smashed one of the league’s hoped leaders.
Then there is the season. Pitt entered 2022 with the highest expectations, both internally and externally. Internally, Pitt’s cast were talking about some high aspirations where words like “invincibility” and “number one” and “playoffs” came to light far more than anything imaginable. These internal aspirations were met with external expectations, as quite a few college football watchers looked at the Panthers’ returning experience and transfer additions and thought, “This team can do something.”
The team did a few things and they weren’t all good. October was particularly brutal, with a dream-shattering loss to Georgia Tech, a slop fest in Louisville, and North Carolina’s standings stunned 4-4 by the Panthers with a month’s play to play.
The outlook was depressing, and Pitt’s offense seemed so effective for so long that success seemed like it would never come. Even when the Panthers started piling up wins in November, there was still not a ton of offense to talk about.
So when the team came out and played at a very high level in all phases of the game against Miami – including offense – this felt like a fitting closing for the season:
Here, after 11 often futile and unreliable games, they were putting it together. They saved their best for last and really played their best game of the season in the final.
Which brings us to the game itself. Actually, it wasn’t perfect; no game really. But it’s definitely close. Just look at the offense: With 504 total yards, 256 passing yards, and 248 quick yards, he’s almost right down the middle. Scoring was a perfect spread: three passes and three quick goals (two from Israel Abanikanda and one from C’Bo Flemister).
There were two turnovers on offense, but they weren’t as lethal as the giveaways in Louisville. And they made up for their own mistakes by taking advantage of Miami’s mistakes and taking 14 points from turnovers.
Meanwhile, Kedon Slovis threw for 256 yards, his highest since scoring a 305 loss to Georgia Tech and three goals in the GT game, which also equaled the season-high set. Jared Wayne set a career-high 199 receiving yards and three touchdowns, finishing the regular season with 1,006 yards and five touchdowns. And Abanikanda did her usual business: two touchdowns (7.4 yards per carry) for 111 yards and 15 shots. Flemister added another 89 yards and added a point in seven tries, while Rodney Hammond made 56 yards in 10 shots.
And all that says nothing about the defense that stood out for the fourth straight game this month. Miami finished with 385 yards of scrimmage, but 152 of those came in the fourth quarter as the Hurricanes snatched the game out of reach. In the first three quarters, Pitt’s defense allowed Miami to gain 233 yards and three points. The Panthers finished the game with 11 losses, six sacks, two tackles and two forced drop-offs (one saved).
It was as dominant a performance as Pitt has produced this season, and it was the fact that he faced off against Miami (the Panthers rarely beat) in the final game of the season (the Panthers rarely won) in a season that turned out to be less promising. It has recovered somewhat from disappointment and stands as the last game in the 18-year history of the Coastal Division…
This looks perfect.