PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst insists the Panthers are making progress.
Maybe, but at the moment the program appears on a treadmill of mediocrity it can't seem to shake.
Early mistakes doomed Pitt in a 41-31 loss to Miami on Friday, a defeat that left the Panthers (6-6, 3-5 ACC) with a third straight .500 regular season and showcased the gap between Pitt and the conference's elite remains significant.
"I didn't see anybody not giving good effort," Chryst said. "We didn't play smart ... I think it was more execution and our mental errors than it was our effort."
Senior quarterback Tom Savage completed 24 of 43 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught nine passes for 98 yards and a score while setting a school record for receptions by a freshman. Boyd now has 77 catches for 1,001 yards.
Boyd remains a promising part of Pitt's future. The present, however, remains muddled. The Panthers are 18-18 in the regular season since forcing out Dave Wannstedt three years ago.
Any chance to end the school's first season in the new-look ACC with some momentum vanished quickly. Pitt fumbled the opening kickoff, had a punt partially blocked and allowed Miami's Stacy Coley to catch a pair of touchdowns from Stephen Morris before the game was 4 minutes old.
"It's hard to beat a good team like Miami with all the mistakes that we made today," Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "You just can't win games like that. We didn't get down, and we came out the second half fighting. But we just couldn't do it."
Coley later added a zig-zagging 73-yard touchdown run for the Hurricanes (9-3, 5-3 ACC), who kept their hopes for an ACC Coastal Division title alive. Allen Hurns caught nine passes for 173 yards Miami, which has won eight straight and 16 of the last 17 meetings with Pitt.
Most of those wins came when the teams were still rivals in the Big East.
Switching conferences, however, has done little to change the result.
Even the conditions failed to deter Miami. Several Hurricanes warmed up without a shirt on, a symbolic gesture meant to show they weren't going to let something like a little 33-degree chill bother them.
"We were talking all week that we're not going to let the cold affect us at all," Miami center Jared Wheeler said. "We're tired of everyone telling us 'Oh, it's cold, Miami isn't going to do well.'"
Hardly. Morris completed 17 of 28 passes for 296 yards and three scores as Miami piled up 476 total yards. The Panthers racked up 501, but most of them came in the second half with the Hurricanes nursing a big lead.
Isaac Bennett ran for a 141 yards and a score for Pitt but the Panthers never got closer than 10 points over the game's final 48 minutes.
"It was frustrating," Pitt defensive back Jason Hendricks said. "You hope things like that disappear because you practice them so much. Thing happen, and you try to bounce back but it was too late."
Pitt's only real surge came when a 23-yard touchdown pass from Savage to Rachid Ibrahim pulled the Panthers within 34-24 with 7:36 left.
Rather than nurse the lead, Miami attacked. Morris deftly guided a seven-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard flip to Asante Cleveland.
The win took some of the sting out of a late season swoon. Miami ended a three-game losing streak last week against Virginia then backed it up by looking very much like the dominant force it was during a 7-0 start.
Hurns continued one of greatest seasons by a Miami receiver in school history by pulling in a 66-yard pass to set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards. Hurns has 1,138 yards receiving to put Leonard Hankerson's 1,156-yard effort in 2010 in serious jeopardy.
The Panthers, tepidly trying to avoid its third straight 6-6 finish, didn't exactly put up a fight when the game was up for grabs.
Garrett Kidd jumped on a fumble by Pitt's Lafayette Pitts on the opening kickoff and Morris needed just three plays to hit Coley for a 32-yard catch and run to put Miami in front 7-0. The Panthers went nowhere on its next drive and when Tyriq McCord partially blocked Matt Yoklic's punt the Hurricanes had the ball at the Pitt 42.
Morris and Coley needed only two plays to make it 14-0, as a Coley turned a quick screen into a pair of missed tackles and a 34-yard sprint down the sideline for a score.
Bennett responded with a 45-yard touchdown run, but it was one of the few true defensive mistakes by the Hurricanes, whose ineptitude during the second half of the season cost them a shot at the national title.
Still, hopes for a rematch with No. 2 Florida State in the ACC title game remain alive while the Panthers wait for a bowl bid that won't be quite the prime destination it could have been with a victory in their home finale.
"We are 6-6 now," Pitt linebacker Anthony Gonzalez said. "We obviously have made mistakes frequently. We have to correct them, work hard and try to get a bowl game win and finish over .550."