Some said they were playing for the seniors.
Others said they were playing for coach Al Golden.
In the end, they didn’t play well enough for anyone — except for maybe the Pittsburgh Panthers.
What was once a promising season for the Miami Hurricanes turned into shambles Saturday on Senior Night at Sun Life Stadium.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The University of Miami looked worse than mediocre against the Panthers, who came into Saturday’s contest with a losing record and qualified for a bowl game by defeating the Hurricanes 35-23 in the final regular-season game.
And mediocre at best is exactly what the Hurricanes’ 6-6 season has turned into after losses to Florida State, Virginia and now, Pitt, in the past three games.
“We’re responsible for the record,” Golden said. “I’m responsible for the record. … We are what our record is. Period.
Saturday marked the first time since 2007 that the defensively challenged Hurricanes ended their regular season with three consecutive losses. The last time they did that, under Randy Shannon, they finished 5-7 and didn’t qualify for a bowl.
At .500 overall and 3-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Canes have already earned the right to play in the post season. Rest assured that it won’t be a high-profile game.
The Hurricanes are tied for last in the ACC with Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Pittsburgh (6-6, 4-4) ended its regular season with two straight victories.
“This game wasn’t perfect and it never is,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “But the guys just kept playing and focusing on the next play. You felt it and we played off each other.”
The loss was only the second for UM at Sun Life this season, witnessed by an announced crowd of 61,106 that appeared substantially smaller.
Among that crowd, according to a photograph posted on Twitter, was the mother of star running back Duke Johnson, sitting next to agent Drew Rosenhaus. Johnson, a junior who broke Ottis Anderson’s all-time career rushing record Saturday, also could be running to the NFL Draft after the bowl game, though earlier in the week he said he was still undecided.
After the game, Johnson reaffirmed that he had not made his decision yet, and indicated he had no idea Rosenhaus sat near his mom.
“While they were upstairs I was playing a football game, so I really don’t know what’s going on,” Johnson said. “But I will definitely talk to my mom after this game and make sure she [keeps] her distance and whoever contacts her stay away from her, period. Because I still have football to play in college.
“We haven’t made a decision yet, so why he’s talking to my mom or my family, I have no idea.’’
Johnson ran for 89 yards on 18 carries Saturday for a new career mark of 3,387. He has 1,520 for the season.
“It’s both satisfying and disappointing,” Johnson said of breaking Anderson’s record. “When you reach a milestone like that, you want to come out with a victory.
“We have a lot of talent on this team and we’re just not showing it.’’
UM charged down the field in the waning minutes, getting as far as fourth-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 5-yard line, but Brad Kaaya’s last-gasp pass was deflected and the Panthers took over with 3:27 left.
Kaaya finished the game completing 22 of 45 passes for 296 yards and touchdowns to Phillip Dorsett and Johnson.
Dorsett, a senior, caught five passes for a game-high 103 receiving yards.
The Canes, who outgained the Panthers 421 to 360 yards, added nine points on field goals.
Pittsburgh scored its final touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 13:32 left when Chad Voytik plunged across the goal line for the 35-23 lead.
Panthers’ star running back James Conner gained 75 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
The Hurricanes trailed 21-13 at halftime and came out looking like they were either still sleepwalking after last week’s loss at Virginia, still full from too much turkey — or just checked out.
The Panthers came out looking like they were playing for something special.
It took Pittsburgh four plays to go 60 yards for a touchdown. Conner’s 13-yard run put Pitt on the scoreboard as he broke Tony Dorsett’s 1976 Panthers’ record of 22 rushing touchdowns. Conner’s 40-yard reception from Voytik set up the touchdown, with the UM defense — except for cornerback Artie Burns — nowhere to be found.
The Canes answered with a 40-yard field goal on their ensuing drive, after Johnson lost two yards on third-and-3.
UM, which never led, trailed 7-3 with 7:50 left in the opening quarter.
Golden, who will soon hit the recruiting trail, was asked what his message would be to his team after Saturday’s loss.
“My message right now?’’ he said. “I’m really disappointed in our performance tonight and how we played. Obviously, we think there are still a lot of positives. It would be fruitless for me to talk about it right now. It wouldn’t be fair.’’