PITTSBURGH -- Next time around in these parts they might need a blizzard to defeat the Hurricanes, because just plain cold wasn’t good enough Friday.
The hot-weather Hurricanes came to Pittsburgh and immediately sent a message during pregame “warm-ups,’’ when nearly two dozen defensive players strutted onto Heinz Field bare-chested in the 33-degree chill.
Led by freshman receiver Stacy Coley and a career performance by senior receiver Allen Hurns, the Canes heated up in a hurry, turning a 21-point first-half lead into a 41-31 victory.
Miami (9-3, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) not only ended its first regular season since 2009 with nine victories, it buoyed its bowl options and kept itself alive in the Coastal Division race.
A North Carolina win over Duke on Saturday coupled with a Virginia defeat of Virginia Tech would give the Hurricanes the Coastal title by virtue of a tiebreaker. If that should happen, Miami would play Atlantic Division champion Florida State in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C.
UM coach Al Golden lauded the Canes’ attitudes and said they knew a “10-win season for the first time in a long time in Miami’’ was at stake. “With any measure of good fortune [Saturday] we might have more,’’ he said. “Real proud of those guys.’’
The last time the Hurricanes won at least 10 games was when they finished 11-2 in 2003.
When Golden was told that 6-5, 319-pound right guard Jared Wheeler was the first player (and only offensive player) to come onto the field bare-chested, Golden said he had nothing to do with it.
“It wasn’t cooked up by me,’’ the coach said, laughing. “They’ve been through a lot of adversity. They don’t want to hear about weather. What does weather mean compared to what they went through [with the NCAA] the last 28 months? Maybe this is a new breed. Maybe this is a new mindset they have, and if Wheeler and some of the seniors helped us learn that today, then that’s great.
“We threw the ball well, we caught the ball well and we didn’t have turnovers. You can’t say weather was a factor for us today.’’
Canes fans can thank Coley – the only player in the FBS with touchdowns receiving, rushing and on kick- and punt returns – for scoring three first-half touchdowns Friday. His last score came on an artful 73-yard end around in which he made several defenders miss, then lay in the end zone out of breath.
“Just shaking a lot of defenders from great blocks from my teammates,’’ Coley said. “I just saw green grass and took it. I guess I was breathing too hard and the air just went in my mouth. It was hard to breath.
“I’m from Florida so I’m not very used to this Pittsburgh weather. It hit me a little bit.’’
Fans can also can thank Allen Hurns, who came into the day ranked 11th in all-time UM receiving yards and passed Larry Brodsky, Wesley Carroll, Eddie Brown and Andre Johnson to finish the day as No. 7 all-time, with 1,867 yards .
Hurns’ 173 yards on nine catches gives him 1,138 yards for the season. He joins Eddie Brown, Andre Johnson and Leonard Hankerson as the fourth Hurricane in history to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris completed 17 of 28 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns in passing Gino Torretta to become UM’s third most prolific passer with 7,736 yards.
Morris said he was “pleased’’ with his performance and that the cold “felt great.
“I actually loved it. We made sure it wouldn’t be a factor for us, so we came out prepared. It was a mindset the whole team had, not just the offense.
“The linebackers and [defensive backs] came out there with no shirts on. They were excited, and we were definitely trying to send a message that, ‘The weather is not going to be a factor in this game, so if you guys thought that was going to be part of your game plan, you can just kick it out right now.’’’
UM cornerback Artie Burns intercepted quarterback Tom Savage in the end zone with 2:02 left in the game, icing the game for the hot Hurricanes.
The Panthers (6-6, 3-5), who scored with 14 seconds left in the game, gained 501 yards (232 rushing), becoming the fourth opponent in the last five games to tally at least 500. Though UM’s defense played noticeably more aggressive, at times they still struggled with tackling. Pitt scored 21 points in the second half.
Several of the Canes said they will spend Saturday watching the Duke at UNC game and the Virginia Tech at UVA game, hoping the home teams win.
“We handled our business today at Pitt and we just have to let the chips fall where they may,’’ said tight end Asante Cleveland, a senior who scored the first touchdown of his career late in the fourth quarter. “We’re going to get right back to business as usual and hope for the best.’’