Rod Rutherford's fourth-down pass barely eluded a diving Yogi Roth in the end zone as top-ranked Miami held on for a 28-21 Big East Conference victory over No. 19 Pittsburgh to stretch its winning streak to 32 games.
"We played a very good defensive football game tonight," said Miami coach Larry Coker, who improved to 22-0. "I am proud of our resiliency. We can't let the pressure get to us. We have to keep making plays."
The Hurricanes (10-0, 6-0), whose streak is the longest in college football since Toledo won 35 in a row from 1969-71, passed another test in their pursuit of a second straight national championship.
Miami leads Ohio State by 0.01 point in the BCS standings and can secure a spot in the national title game by winning its final two games against Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
But the Hurricanes nearly squandered a two-touchdown lead in the final five minutes after a sluggish first half.
"We knew they were a very good team and we were in a dogfight," Miami tailback Willis McGahee said. "We had to stay focused and do what we needed to do to get the win."
Pittsburgh closed to 28-21 on Rutherford's three-yard run with 4:38 remaining, then got back the ball at its 42 with 2:12 left after holding Miami without a first down.
The Panthers took advantage of three Miami penalties - one on the punt return - to give fans at the Orange Bowl a major scare.
However, the Hurricanes' defense stiffened after Pittsburgh reached the 25. Two incompletions and a five-yard pass to Roth set up 4th-and-5 from the 20.
Roth was open over the middle, but Rutherford's pass was a bit high, and the Hurricanes breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"We're not into moral victories," Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said. "These guys are too serious about football to be excited about getting it close. We were close, but we didn't get over the hump."
Miami responded after falling behind, 14-7, behind its 1-2 punch of McGahee and Ken Dorsey. McGahee provided a spark with a 69-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter and Dorsey directed a pair of scoring drives in the second half.
A three-touchdown underdog, Pittsburgh (8-3, 5-1) dominated the first half and Miami appeared flustered. Dorsey was not sharp early, completing just 5-of-15 passes for 13 yards in the opening 30 minutes.
"We did not have any offensive rhythm tonight," Coker said.
But the Hurricanes used two big plays to forge a 14-14 halftime tie - Sean Taylor's 78-yard punt return for a touchdown 3:16 into the contest and McGahee's long run with 2:06 left before intermission.
McGahee's TD was a back-breaker for Pittsburgh as it came one play after the Panthers took a 14-7 lead on Rutherford's four-yard touchdown toss to Roosevelt Bynes.
On one play, Miami more than doubled its previous offensive output. Before the touchdown, the Hurricanes had gained just 62 yards and were 0-for-5 on third-down conversions.
"Our football team played hard, played with great enthusiasm and fought them the whole way, but we didn't do enough things right," Harris said. "We gave them a championship-type effort."
McGahee finished with 159 yards on 19 carries, adding a seven-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. That enabled him to set a Miami single-season record with 19 touchdowns, breaking Edgerrin James' mark of 18 in 1998.
McGahee tied another single-season record with 18 rushing TDs.
"Willis is a very physical back who just keeps coming at you," Coker said. "He is in some great company as an all-time UM running back."
It did not take long for the Hurricanes to take the lead as they used four plays and less than two minutes to march 71 yards on the first possession of the second half.
Dorsey capped the quick drive with a 30-yard TD strike to Andre Johnson 1:42 into the third quarter.
The effort may have hurt Dorsey's Heisman Trophy chances, but he came on in the second half and finished 14-of-26 for 163 yards.
The Panthers tried to answer on the ensuing possession, reaching the Hurricanes' 21. But linebacker D.J. Williams forced Rutherford to cough up the ball and Taylor recovered the crucial fumble at the Miami 8.
Rutherford completed 17-of-38 passes for 150 yards and also rushed for 69 yards on 21 carries. Brandon Miree led Pittsburgh on the ground with 118 yards on 26 carries.
The Panthers were forced to punt after Taylor's touchdown, but on the next series, linebacker Brian Beinecke intercepted Dorsey at the Miami 31.
Five plays later, Rutherford lofted a five-yard pass in the corner of the end zone to Larry Fitzgerald, who made a leaping grab to tie it.