The Miami (FL) Hurricanes won a shootout over the Pittsburgh Panthers 41-31 on Friday at Heinz Field, which gives the reemerging program hope of taking part in the ACC Conference Championship Game.
Stephen Morris led the Hurricanes to victory by throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns, combining with a fellow senior in receiver Allen Hurns to create a dynamic tandem in Miami's passing attack.
Freshman Stacy Coley had three receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns on top of a 73-yard scamper to the end zone that helped drive Miami to the win. Coley is definitely going to be an exciting player to watch moving forward.
But there were a couple of stellar performances on the losing side that are also worth highlighting.
Since the video of Coley's big plays showcase his abilities most appropriately, let's take a closer look at both Morris and Hurns, along with the Panthers' top standouts.
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami (FL)
There is no questioning Morris' talent. The dynamic signal-caller has an NFL-caliber arm and can produce big plays with the flick of his wrist.
That was on full display against Pittsburgh's defense, which was ranked 22nd in the nation against the pass coming into the game, per NCAA.com.
Morris completed 17 of 28 passes in averaging 10.6 yards per attempt. His first two touchdown tosses went to dynamic freshman Stacy Coley.
As singled out by Josh Norris of NBC Sports, though, this laser to Hurns that went for a 66-yard gain conveyed the type of bazooka Morris has strapped to his right shoulder:
Still love a good Stephen Morris vertical shot: http://t.co/Vk4lsSQkyP— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) November 30, 2013
Accuracy and decision-making are still areas where Morris can improve a great deal, but when he has his feet properly set, trusts his read and cuts it loose, it's pretty special to watch.
One consistent trend seems to be the rate at which Morris can create game-changing plays, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Miami QB Stephen Morris passes former Heisman winner Gino Torretta into 3rd place on the school’s career passing list today vs Pittsburgh.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 29, 2013
What will be interesting is to see how Morris stacks up in the eyes of NFL scouts. His upside could see him project higher than expected in the pros if he fares well in the long lead-up to the draft.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
The Panthers had their own exciting freshman, who was overshadowed on this day but still produced at a high level with nine receptions and 98 yards. In eight of 12 games in his maiden season at Pittsburgh, Boyd has recorded at least 82 receiving yards.
That's especially impressive considering Boyd is also counted on for kickoff return duties. He ran three back for 83 yards, with a long of 40 against the Hurricanes.
ESPN's Kevin Weidl pointed out just how productive Boyd has been, as he passed NFL superstar Larry Fitzgerald for the program's freshman record in receptions:
Pitt true freshman WR Tyler Boyd just caught his 70th ball of the yr. Breaking the school's freshman record previously held by Larry Fitz— Kevin Weidl (@KevinW_ESPN) November 29, 2013
Boyd wound up with 77 catches for 1,001 yards and seven receiving touchdowns for the year. Being mentioned in the same breath as Fitzgerald is an excellent achievement in and of itself, but getting just over the 1,000-yard mark makes it even better.
The scary thing for the rest of the ACC is that Boyd still has room to grow into his 6'2", 185-pound frame.
Between the physical and mental development Boyd is bound to go through, he has a chance to be one of the premier receivers in college football next season and beyond.
Allen Hurns, WR, Miami (FL)
It is impossible to overlook Coley's two long touchdowns on only three receptions and his amazing run to paydirt.
However, the more experienced Hurns is worth breaking down due to the incredible tear he's been on to cap off his final season in Miami. Hurns put together his fourth consecutive 100-yard receiving game with his highest single-game yardage total of his career.
The Hurricanes' official Twitter account documented the history Hurns made in becoming only the fourth wideout to post a 1,000-yard season in program history:
Congratulations again to Allen Hurns: Just the fourth Hurricane to eclipse 1000 receiving yards in a single season. pic.twitter.com/sdbVKiNo1x— Miami Hurricanes (@hurricanesports) November 30, 2013
At 6'3" and 195 pounds with excellent speed, this dominant stretch to close the season should put NFL evaluators on notice.
A nine-catch, 173-yard performance against one of the nation's premier pass defenses is nothing to scoff at, even though the Panthers aren't a great team as a whole.
Isaac Bennett, RB, Pittsburgh
Even beyond the longest run of his career (45 yards) that cut the Hurricanes' deficit to 14-7 in the first quarter when the game looked like it could have gotten away, Bennett was solid.
Which program will fare better in 2014?
A big part of what kept the Panthers in the game was Bennett's tough running. He ran for 141 yards on 21 carries, so he still got 96 yards on 20 carries beyond the long TD run.
Bennett is only a junior and gives Pittsburgh some optimism that its typically lackluster running game can turn around.
With a record of 6-6 amid a roller-coaster season, a beacon of hope for balance on offense presented itself ahead of a prospective bowl game, courtesy of Bennett's tough running.