Barry Jackson

How UM can still make the playoffs after loss to Pitt?

Miami Hurricanes Ahmmon Richards (82) dives for a second quarter touchdown as Pitt Panthers Avonte Maddox (14) fails to defend at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa, November 24, 2017.
Miami Hurricanes Ahmmon Richards (82) dives for a second quarter touchdown as Pitt Panthers Avonte Maddox (14) fails to defend at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa, November 24, 2017. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

This stunning, dispiriting 24-14 loss to Pittsburgh means UM no longer can be certain it will make the playoffs by beating Clemson. But it’s still a real possibility.

"Now, can Miami afford to lose this game and still finish top 4 w/ ACC title? Absolutely," ESPN CFP reporter Heather Dinich tweeted with Pittsburgh leading.

As Dinich noted, the committee values winning a conference championship. So that will carry weight.

Now if Miami (10-1) beats Clemson in the ACC Championship game, this scenario seemingly would get the Hurricanes in the playoff: Alabama and Wisconsin and Oklahoma win out and Georgia loses to Georgia Tech. UM then would have the best resume to join Alabama, Wisconsin and Oklahoma in the playoffs.

That’s because Georgia and Auburn and Ohio State would all have three losses in the above scenario.

Penn State and Southern Cal or Washington State can still finish with two losses, but it’s difficult to envision any of them finishing ahead of one-loss Miami in this scenario of UM beating Clemson.

Now here’s one scenario that could get Miami in but no guarantee:

If Alabama beats Auburn and Georgia (as it will be favored to do) and if Oklahoma beats West Virginia and TCU (as it will be favored to do) and if Wisconsin beats Minnesota and Ohio State, then Alabama and Wisconsin and Oklahoma would make the playoffs, and a one-loss Miami (if it beats Clemson) would seemingly have a better resume for the fourth spot over a two-loss Georgia team (if it beats Georgia Tech), obviously a two-loss Clemson team that it beats in this scenario, a two-loss Notre Dame that it beat two weeks ago and three-loss Ohio State and three-loss Auburn.

But even in that scenario, UM couldn’t assume it would make the playoffs because it’s possible the committee could give the nod to Georgia in that scenario if it beats Georgia Tech and loses narrowly to an unbeaten Alabama team. In that scenario, Georgia would have two losses and Miami one, but UM’s one loss would be a 5-7 Pittsburgh team, while Georgia’s would be to Auburn (by a wide margin) and Alabama.

But keep in mind the committee values conference championships. So UM would have that over Georgia in this scenario.

A less likely scenario that also could get Miami in: Alabama and Wisconsin win out and Oklahoma loses one. In that scenario, UM (if it beats Clemson) would be in decent position to join Alabama and Wisconsin in the playoffs, but Oklahoma and Georgia also would get consideration.

What makes it more complicated would be if Alabama loses to Auburn or Georgia and Wisconsin loses to Ohio State, with Oklahoma winning out.

In this scenario, two SEC teams could join Oklahoma in the playoff, and Miami (if it beats Clemson) might not get the nod against a two-loss Ohio State team that beats Michigan Saturday and then Wisconsin in the Big 10 championship.

So merely beating Clemson might not be enough for UM to make the playoffs. It certainly would help if Alabama wins out (thus knocking out Auburn from consideration and lessening Georgia’s chance) and Ohio State loses another game and for good measure, the Bulldogs lose to Georgia Tech.

• Yes, Malik Rosier was awful, but I can’t agree with this decision to bench Rosier and replace him with Evan Shirreffs for a series for two reasons: 1) Rosier deserved a longer rope considering he’s had a very good season and entered 11-0 as a starting quarterback. 2) Shirreffs, frankly, isn’t particularly good, with no other major offers besides Miami.

“Malik was struggling,” Mark Richt told WQAM in explaining the QB switch, citing Rosier’s erratic accuracy. “Evan is a fierce competitor, always ready. I give him a lot of credit for his readiness. Not that it was an easy decision at all. I told Malik this is not the end of his season, his career. I put him back in, knowing he’s used to the one-minute drill. He did a nice job for the most part when we put him back in.”

Rosier should have played better, but he also deserved better.

Rosier had missed on nine of 10 throws at the time of his benching and was 12 for 30 for 129 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions when he was benched. He returned for UM’s final series, with Miami down 24-7.

Rosier then hit Braxton Berrios for a 39-yard touchdown.

Rosier told WQAM he must do a better job of motivating players. “There are details we need to fix.”

• The offensive ineptitude was something stunning considering the competition; Pittsburgh entered 82nd in the country in total defense, 80th in yards allowed per game (412) and 73rd in points allowed per game (27.7).

• Rosier and UM’s offensive line played their worst games of the season. The line generated no push in the running game and giving up too much pressure on Malik Rosier, sometimes with merely four-man rushes.

Though UM allowed three sacks (including one on a whiff by Trevor Darling and another on a bad miscommunication), it would have been more if Rosier hadn’t escaped on a few occasions.

Rosier, as usual, missed on several throws to open receivers. But unlike in past games, he didn’t make up for it with big throws until the late one to Berrios, with Pitt up 17 and less then three minutes left.

Rosier finished 15 for 34 for 187 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Shirreffs had a three-and-out on his one possession, with a sack and two incomplete passes.

The running game mustered 45 yards on 23 carries against a team that entered allowing 151 yards rushing per game.

Travis Homer ran seven times for 12 yards in his worst game of the season.

• UM’s only successful first half drive included three bubble screens, three Rosier runs and two 20-plus yard throws at or near the goal line – one that should have a defensive pass interference (Mike Harley was held in the end zone) and the other a 23-yard TD pass to Ahmmon Richards. But the Hurricanes couldn’t replicate that formula the rest of the day.

• UM’s 23 first quarter yards were its fewest in any quarter this season.

• Zach Feagles entered 155th in the country with a 38.5 punting average, and two poor punts directly preceded Pittsburgh first-half scores. The first was a 35-yarder, giving the Panthers the ball at Miami’s 45, and leading to a Pitt 46-year-old goal.

The second punt was an ugly 13-yard shank that preceded Pitt’s 11 play, 68 yard scoring drive.

Feagles wasn’t much better in the second half.

He closed with a 36.7 average on 10 punts.

Feagles, the son of former UM and NFL punter Jeff Feagles, needs to be much better to keep this job for three more years.

“He’s had his ups and downs but he’s a great talent and we believe in him,” Richt said. “He will be our punter this week.”

• NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah was among several people who tweeted that Pittsburgh’s offensive linemen were getting away with a bunch of holding penalties in the first half.

And then, in an unusual move, UM’s official twitter account noted that UM hadn’t been the beneficiary of an opposing offensive holding penalty since the Florida State game Oct. 7.

• One of this staff’s smartest moves was moving Sheldrick Redwine from cornerback to safety, and it again paid dividends Friday.

Redwine had his best half of the season Friday, breaking up a potential touchdown in the end zone in the first quarter and then forcing a fumble in the second quarter. Jaquan Johnson recovered the fumble and gave the turnover chain to Redwine. Classy move.

• Michael Jackson has had a very good year but he was victimized three times in coverage on Pittsburgh’s touchdown drive before the end of the first half, allowing passes of 22 and 12 yards and then committing a holding penalty in the end zone.

• UM struggled initially controlling jet sweeps and reverses to Pittsburgh receiver Quadree Henderson. And Miami, which led the nation in sacks per game, had only one.

• Richt’s reaction, afterward, on WQAM: “Very disappointed, obviously. We’ve been winning so much, it became commonplace....They lined up, played good ball and whipped us.”

• Pittsburgh outgained UM, 345-232.

• Tight end Michael Irvin Jr. made his first career start, in a two tight end set with Chris Herndon.

Herndon left for good with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, severely weakening the position where UM has its least depth.

• Opposing kickers haven’t missed against UM this season. They’re 18 for 18 on field goals and 167 for 17 on extra points.

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