The fourth quarter hasn't been kind at all to Syracuse this season.
It's turned back-and-forth games into blowouts, with three quarters of competitive play somehow leading to crooked scores.
Most times, it's taken a few minutes for the fourth quarter damage to kick in. Against Pittsburgh, it only took eight seconds. Tyler Boyd took a quick screen 49 yards, untouched, into the end zone on the first play of the quarter. It gave the Panthers a commanding 27-7 lead, one last backbreaker in a season that's been full of them for Syracuse.
The Orange (3-8, 1-6 ACC) lost its fourth game in a row and its eighth in nine games on Saturday in Heinz Field. Three years ago, Pittsburgh ended Syracuse's bowl hopes on the final week of the regular season by giving the Orange its seventh loss. Syracuse had its own chance to play spoiler and get revenge but, instead, the Panthers (5-6) kept bowl hopes alive with a 30-7 beat down.
"We're playing a lot of young kids," Scott Shafer said. "We're playing a lot of guys that are beat up and we have a lot of guys who aren't playing anymore that could help us win."
Syracuse trailed 20-7 entering the third quarter, despite being outplayed for most of the game. But Boyd's touchdown sprint effectively ended any chance of an Orange comeback. He bolted past all of Syracuse's defenders, who weren't able to disengage from their blocks. At that point, the Orange defense had been on the field for about 61 percent of game time. And its run defense, which has been one of the best in the country through ten games, finally caved and allowed 256 yards on the ground to the Panthers.
Even so, Pittsburgh gave Syracuse one chance after the other to get back in the game. They had a holding penalty negate a return touchdown, an end zone interception stop another drive and two other possessions ended by missed field goals. It wasn't until Pittsburgh's 10-0 fourth quarter that they took control.
The Orange has now been outscored 73-36 in the fourth quarter this season. Syracuse hasn't won the fourth quarter in any of the last seven games. In its last five matches, the Orange hasn't scored a single touchdown in the final stanza.
"We're too young and too inexperienced and you can't win games that way in the ACC," Shafer said.
The Syracuse offense, meanwhile, continued to struggle and was shutout, aside from a 1-yard rush touchdown from Ron Thompson. The Orange produced just 255 yards of offense coming off a bye and couldn't sustain any momentum with either A.J. Long or Mitch Kimble at quarterback. With the loss, Syracuse has dropped all four games that it's gained fewer than 300 yards.
Long finished the game 10-19 for 149 yards and an interception. Kimble came in for the second quarter and somehow managed to do even worse. The only pass he completed out of six attempts was to Pittsburgh's Bam Bradley, off a deflection from Sean Avant.
The Orange will finish the season next Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Syracuse doesn't have bowl eligibility to play for, but Shafer maintained that he'll be just as motivated to beat the Eagles.
Said Shafer, "You don't just throw it all in and look at next year. That's what losers do. They say that we have to get to work for next year. Well, you have seniors who have put four and five years of effort into this program so we're trying to get them another victory."