PITTSBURGH — Miami spent the better part of 13 months putting together the nation's longest winning streak behind a series of comebacks that returned the swagger to "The U" in all of its "Turnover Chain" glory.
Sluggish throughout the first half against Pittsburgh on Friday, the Hurricanes figured they'd come out for the third quarter, hit the gas and survive just the way they've done time and again during their rebirth under second-year coach Mark Richt.
Miami's perfect season is over. The second-ranked Hurricanes can only hope their shot at College Football Playoff berth isn't gone too.
Freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett ran for two touchdowns and threw for another as the Panthers pulled out a decisive 24-14 stunner that sent Miami reeling into next week's ACC title game showdown with defending national champion Clemson.
"I still think there's an awful lot to play for," Miami coach Mark Richt said. "We have no idea what's going to happen in the big picture, how many teams lost a game on a Friday and came back and got in the top four? How many teams lost one game and won a conference championship and got right back in it? Who knows? So we don't know."
A chance to put together the program's first unbeaten regular season since 2002 vanished at chilly but hardly cold Heinz Field. Malik Rosier completed just 15 of 34 passes for 187 and two touchdowns and was briefly pulled in the fourth quarter. The Hurricanes (10-1, 7-1 ACC, CFP No. 2) managed just 232 yards, a season-low, and spotted Pitt a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Panthers put together a pair of long touchdown drives engineered by Pickett and the emphatic response from Miami never materialized.
"There's multiple times where we play lackadaisical in the first half and in the second half we come out and explode and it just didn't happen," Rosier said. "That's something I've got to fix. I've got to motivate those guys in the first half so the second half doesn't have to be some type of miracle second half."
Miami stressed it had learned an important lesson after spotting Virginia a two-touchdown lead last week before recovering to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 15 games. Yet the Hurricanes walked onto the Heinz Field turf in a weird spot.
The ACC Coastal Division champions are well aware their meeting with No. 4 Clemson next Saturday will serve as the ultimate arbiter on whether the Hurricanes are worthy of consideration for the College Football Playoff. The loss to Pittsburgh might not matter as long as they beat the defending national champions.
Time to put the theory to the test.
"We want to focus on Clemson and if we win and we get in, great," Rosier said. "If we win and we don't, that's just something we have to live with. It was our play that got us to where we're at."