PITTSBURGH — Pat Narduzzi spent most of his first season at Pittsburgh convincing the Panthers they weren't beholden to the recent past and that big-time success could be had if they believed.
Maybe it worked almost too well. Lethargic and sloppy at the start on Friday against Miami, the Panthers spotted the Hurricanes a 20-point lead and couldn't quite make it all the way back in a 29-24 loss.
"If we start slow again, we have to find a way to get a jumpstart," Narduzzi said. "I might have to bring my jumper cables out or something."
Anything would have been better than what Narduzzi saw from his team in the opening 20 minutes or so against the Hurricanes. Quarterback Nathan Peterman threw his first interception in ACC play, the defense gave up a series of big gains and before Pitt collected itself, Miami was up three scores.
"A lot of guys, including me, just weren't out there doing our jobs," wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. "We weren't executing the plays. Once you don't do your job or your assignment, things are not going to work."
Boyd caught five passes for 70 yards and ran three times for another 47 yards but declined to offer specifics on whether it was his last game at Heinz Field. The junior is eligible for next spring's NFL Draft.
"I'm still not sure what I'm going to do yet," Boyd said. "So I'm still going to continue to ball out and try and finish the season."
Searching for its first nine-win regular season since 2009, Pitt (8-4, 6-2 ACC) instead will have to settle for a second-place finish in the ACC's crowded Coastal Division and a bowl berth that figures to be a little higher up the food chain. Peterman struggled early and finished 13 of 27 for 142 yards with a score and a pick. Freshman Darrin Hall ran for 103 yards and a touchdown but Pitt didn't sack Miami's Brad Kaaya once and allowed the Hurricanes to hog the ball for nearly 35 minutes.
"We're not where we want to be," Narduzzi said. "We want to win some of those big games. There are 12 games and you'd like to win 12. You're never going to be happy until you get every one of those."
Kaaya finished with 261 yards passing to move past Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde and into fifth on the school's all-time passing list. Joseph Yearby ran for 99 yards and Michael Badgley tied a school record with five goals for the Hurricanes (8-4, 5-3 ACC), who improved to 4-1 under interim coach Larry Scott.
"People know us for folding at the end of the season," wide receiver Rashawn Scott said. "We don't got time for that anymore."
The Hurricanes appeared in shambles at midseason following a 58-0 home loss to Clemson on Oct. 24 that cost Golden his job. Yet they have steadied themselves under Scott, feeding off their interim coach's aggressive approach. His tenure started with an eight-lateral (and referee abetted) miracle against Duke on Halloween and save for a misstep against North Carolina, Miami has played like the team picked to finish second in the Coastal Division over the summer.
Instead it's the Panthers who will wind up second to the Tar Heels in the Coastal, buoyed by an offense that takes care of the ball and a defense that produces steady pressure on the opposing quarterback. The Panthers didn't do enough of either against Miami.
Fresh off a nearly flawless four-touchdown performance in a victory over Louisville, Peterman was inaccurate at best and sloppy at worst. He tossed his first interception in conference play on Pitt's second offensive snap and struggled to find any real rhythm.
Kaaya and the Hurricanes had no such issues. Miami scored on five of its six first-half possessions, with Kaaya hitting Rashawn Scott with a pretty 22-yard touchdown that made it 17-0 with 2:34 left in the first quarter. Pitt trailed at some point in six of its eight wins this season, but never by more than a touchdown. Unable to provide Peterman with protection or time to look downfield, the Panthers instead relied heavily on the running game.
It made for effective but slow going. Pitt's first drive of the second half took more than five minutes but ended when a pair of penalties turned a fourth-and-1 into a fourth-and-11 and a punt. While Hall broke loose for a 35-yard sprint with 3:52 to play in the third to pull Pitt within 23-10, Miami responded by methodically driving for another Badgley field goal.
Pitt rallied late, getting within five on a 5-yard scramble by Peterman with 2:32 to go. The Hurricanes recovered the onside kick and Pitt's last-gasp lateral it was fumbled out of bounds on the final play.
"Once again, at the end of the football game we had a chance to win," Narduzzi said. "Again, we have to make more plays."
AP College Football website: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org