MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The No. 13 Miami Hurricanes returned home from their loss at No. 1 Clemson needing a win.
As ugly as it may have been at times, Miami got exactly that against the gritty Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday afternoon.
Quarterback D'Eriq King threw four touchdown passes, along with two interceptions, and the Hurricanes topped Pitt, 31-19, in front of an announced attendance at Hard Rock Stadium of 9,000 scattered fans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
King went 16 of 31 for 222 yards and added 32 rushing yards. Two of his touchdowns went to Will Mallory, who stepped up with Miami (4-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) without fellow junior tight end Brevin Jordan (shoulder).
Redshirt freshman Pitt quarterback Joey Yellen, starting for injured senior Kenny Pickett, was 22 of 46 for 277 yards and a touchdown for the Panthers (3-3, 2-3).
As neither team surpassed 300 yards of total offense until deep into the fourth quarter, the Hurricanes held Pitt to field goals on four separate trips to the red zone and 3 of 17 on third downs and 22 rushing yards.
"It was just a grind it out game," UM coach Manny Diaz said. "The highlight of the game was the way that we played great team ball."
The Panthers narrowed a 15-point deficit to 21-16 when cornerback Marquis Williams intercepted a King pass to the sideline and returned it 34 yards to the 1-yard line to set up a touchdown. A Yellen pass to tight end Daniel Moraga then put the points on the board on the next play.
Miami responded later in the third quarter with a King touchdown pass to a wide-open Mallory from 45 yards out. Also finding junior running back Cam'Ron Harris the same way in the first quarter, it was King's second touchdown that came from a lean in to fake the quarterback run, draw defenders in and free his man. It put UM up, 28-16.
Defensive end Quincy Roche, who had four tackles for loss Saturday, teamed up with Jaelan Phillips for a strip-sack and recovered the fumble to set Miami up in prime field position, on the Panthers' side of the field. The Hurricanes were in need of the momentum swing after Pitt had made it a one-possession game.
"From that point on, we were really in control," Diaz said.
Losing time of possession much of the game, UM ate up 7:11 of the fourth quarter on a 14-play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a 37-yard field goal from Jose Borregales.
Leading 14-6 at halftime, the Hurricanes added to that advantage on the first drive of the second half when King found senior receiver Michael Harley wide open along the sideline. Tip-toeing his way to stay in bounds, he spun at the goal line to elude a defender, complete the 38-yard touchdown and put UM up, 21-6.
Harley had two receptions for 47 yards. Mark Pope caught five passes for 46 yards.
Miami scored first on Saturday when King found Harris wide open over the middle for a 35-yard touchdown in the first quarter, his first that came as a result of a fake of the run from the shotgun before lobbing the pass to his target with no one around him. The Hurricanes started that second offensive series with great field position, from the Pitt 45-yard line, after the Panthers had two negative plays and committed a kick-catch interference against punt returner Xavier Restrepo.
Deep in the second quarter, the Hurricanes extended their lead to 14-0 when King found Mallory in the flat for a 6-yard touchdown.
Pitt responded with a nine-play, 60-yard drive that used 4:01 and resulted in a field goal. Defensive tackle Jared Harrison-Hunte had a strip-sack on Yellen on third and 2 from the UM 4-yard line that the Panthers recovered.
Pitt nearly returned an interception for a touchdown on the ensuing Miami possession. Safety Paris Ford picked off a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage by Deerfield Beach grad Deslin Alexandre and took it back 34 yards to the UM 12-yard line.
The Hurricanes defense again held Pitt to an Alex Kessman field goal as Miami went into halftime up, 14-6. Kessman kicked four field goals on Saturday.
UM remains at home next Saturday for an 8 p.m. EDT kickoff against Virginia.
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