Miami is leaving the Big East Conference just the way it entered it 11 years ago -- on top, with everybody else playing catchup.
Tyrone Moss and Jarrett Payton became the latest running backs to exploit No. 20 Pittsburgh’s weak rush defense, running for more than 100 yards each, and No. 10 Miami locked up a share of its eighth Big East Conference title and a bowl championship series bid by winning, 28-14, Saturday night.
Miami, which improved to 10-2 overall and 6-1 in the conference, shares the conference title with West Virginia (8-4, 6-1), but it’s the Hurricanes who are heading to a big bowl -- almost certainly the hometown Orange Bowl, where they last played during the 1994 season. The opponent might be Ohio State in a rematch of last season’s national title game.
“That’s our fourth Big East championship in a row and our seniors have won four in a row,” Coach Larry Coker said. “That’s exciting.”
That must have been how Moss and Payton felt when they saw tape of Pitt’s defense. Moss ran for touchdowns of 30 and six yards and Payton had a one-yard touchdown run as Miami scored on three consecutive first-half possessions to turn a 7-0 deficit into a 21-7 lead.
Payton, who became the starter when Frank Gore was hurt against West Virginia on Oct . 2, had 17 carries for 131 yards and Moss carried 21 times for 115 yards. Pitt’s rushing defense -- 80th among the 117 Division I-A schools -- now has given up seven 100-yard rushers.
“There were a lot of things we wanted to attack,” said quarterback Brock Berlin, who completed 12 of 17 passes for 195 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown to Roscoe Parrish. “The running backs played tremendously and when something works, you stick with it.”
Pittsburgh (8-4, 5-2) was playing its biggest game since 1982, when it last appeared in a major New Year’s Day bowl. But the Panthers did almost nothing after driving 74 yards on their first possession for Rod Rutherford’s two-yard touchdown pass to Kris Wilson.
Miami has outscored the Panthers, 205-76, in winning the last six matchups, and is 10-1 against them in Big East play.
Pitt standout sophomore receiver Larry Fitzgerald was held to a season-low three catches for 26 yards.
Fitzgerald extended his NCAA record to 18 consecutive games with at least one touchdown reception, on an 18-yarder with 2:45 left, his 22nd touchdown of the season.
After the game, the Panthers accepted a bid to the Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 27 in Charlotte, N.C.