At the start of the 2021 season, second-year freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke wasn’t expected to be battling the premier quarterbacks of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But from one Top 20-ranked opponent to the next, Van Dyke led the Miami Hurricanes into battle for every ounce of momentum on Saturday.
On the road against the ACC’s leader in scoring offense, Van Dyke threw for a career-high 428 yards and three touchdowns to lead Miami (4-4, 2-2 ACC) past No. 17 Pittsburgh (6-2, 3-1 ACC) in a 38-34 win at Heinz Field.
“What an extraordinary football game,” Miami head coach Manny Diaz said. “Pitt has got an unbelievable team. It was evident in the first quarter that it was going to be a game of just finding a way to get a stop. Stops and turnovers. That’s what it was all going to be about.”
With hardly four minutes left, Pittsburgh redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett offered Miami the best stop it could hope for on second-and-18.
Although Pickett set a school record with 519 passing yards, the Heisman Trophy candidate overthrew a pass intended for wide receiver Jordan Addison. The ball landed in the hands of true freshman James Williams, sealing the Panthers’ hopes of taking their first lead of the afternoon.
“It was a heck of a quarterback. He made some amazing throws that had me shocked back there,” said Williams, who logged the second interception of his college career. “That’s a top draft [pick], so I wasn’t expecting him to just come in and give us the game. We had to go out there and earn it.”
Van Dyke, on the other hand, ignited a first quarter consisting of three Miami touchdowns. The Glastonbury, Connecticut, native fired a 20-yard completion to freshman tight end Elijah Arroyo for his first touchdown catch as a Hurricane. Junior tight end Will Mallory finished a three-play drive with a 57-yard touchdown and second-year freshman Jaylan Knighton then lifted the Hurricanes to a 21-7 advantage on a 40-yard rushing score.
“We started fast. I was confident in all the players we’ve got on offense,” Van Dyke said.
Matching Pittsburgh’s passing-dominant attack, Van Dyke totaled 317 passing yards in the first half after finishing with 325 versus No. 18 NC State.
“Tyler wasn’t even getting the No. 2 quarterback reps in September when D’Eriq was around because him and Jake were splitting,” Diaz said. “His calm demeanor is just remarkable. The guy comes off the field after throwing a touchdown pass like it’s just a walk in the park.”
Freshman Andy Borregales kicked a successful 26-yard field goal attempt at the four-minute mark of the second and Knighton hurdled the Pittsburgh defensive line at the 1-yard line to pad the Hurricanes’ 30-17 lead. Both teams converted on all a combined 12 trips to the red zone.
Facing the nation’s 7th-ranked team in scoring offense, Miami’s defense allowed Pickett space to operate early. Pickett gave a handoff to running back Israel Abanikanda on the game’s opening drive and later found the Panthers’ leader in rushing yards out of the backfield for a 20-yard score, slicing the Hurricanes’ lead to five at the start of the second quarter.
Pickett’s 348-yard first half carried into the third. A pair of consecutive passing touchdowns to receivers Jared Wayne and Jaden Barden leveled the contest at 31 points apiece.
“I told them at halftime you have to be brave in this game,” Diaz said. “You have to be brave to line up and play against these guys down after down because they were relentless on both sides of the ball of coming after us. You couldn’t hope for Pitt to mess it up for us. We were going to have to find a way to earn it, and I thought our guys did.”
Second-year freshman Key’Shawn Smith kept the Hurricanes afloat. Following Van Dyke’s screen pass to senior wide receiver Mike Harley that moved UM to the Pittsburgh 39-yard line for a first down, Smith caught a 13-yard touchdown pass on a slant route. The score marked the Hurricanes’ only after halftime.
Pittsburgh kicker Sam Scarton nailed a 23-yard field goal in the fourth after hooking a previous 49-yard attempt wide in the second quarter.
Knighton started UM’s final drive at its own 2-yard line and nearly cost the Hurricanes a safety. Cornerback Tamarion Crumpley wrapped up the game’s leading rusher, but officials’ review determined Knighton maintained motion outside the end zone.
Van Dyke lined an 18-yard pass to senior transfer wide receiver Charleston Rambo from the goal line, bailing out the Hurricanes on second-and-11 for a first down.
Mallory, however, nearly cost the Hurricanes another punt with a 38-34 lead. The Jacksonville, Florida, native rolled out and received a pass at the line of scrimmage before fumbling the ball at the Miami 20. The play resulted in a Hurricanes first down despite the ball trickling inches from the first down marker.
“It was all about where the ball went out,” Diaz said. “Obviously from our vantage point, and from what you see on the jumbotron, it sure felt like it rolled over the little hashmark that we had to get the ball to…Of a game of the most insane things, that might’ve been the most insane.”
The Hurricanes averaged 13.4 yards per completion yet produced only 64 rushing yards in their second straight win over a ranked team in six tries.
“Another road win against a Top-20 team, which hasn’t been a thing that’s occurred here in a long time, I’m just so proud of our guys. The way they fight, the way they stay together, and now the inches that maybe went against us a couple of weeks ago, it’s obvious there were so many fine line plays in that game and one more went our way than Pitt’s way.
Up next, UM returns home to face Georgia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“I’m very emotional for our players,” Diaz said. “I’m so proud and happy that they get a chance to experience these victories. These are hard wins over two really, really good football teams…I just felt like if we just kept improving, if we just did the little things better as a coaching staff, that the results would start to show.”