The Syracuse Orange turned in one of their best offensive first halves of the season, but it’s not enough to keep pace with the Pittsburgh Panthers offense. Pitt leads 35-21, though it could be argued that gap should be just seven after a shady late hit penalty that will remind you of a similar call vs. Northwestern in 2012...
While SU has punted four times, they’ve also looked much improved moving the football overall. Quarterback Zack Mahoney, starting his third consecutive game for the injured Eric Dungey, finally looks comfortable running this offense and has thrown the ball pretty well. On the game, he’s an impressive 22-for-30 for 187 yards and a touchdown.
The passing attack still isn’t landing those deep balls as much as they were with Dungey, though they’ve had a couple chances. The success of the offense has really come from the short passing game, which SU’s receivers have turned into longer gains. Steve Ishmael, Amba Etta-Tawo and Ervin Philips have all gained at least 45 receiving yards on four or more catches. Brisly Estime has five grabs himself for 20 yards. Etta-Tawo has the only touchdown.
Things have also looked improved on the ground, as the emphasis on the passing game has opened up some holes for runners between the tackles. Dontae Strickland leads the team with 42 yards and a score on 12 carries. Mahoney and Estime have also added a combined 26 yards on nine carries. The efficiency of it all still isn’t great. But they’re using the run well to pick up key first downs.
On the other side of the ball, things are pretty rough. Pitt has 290 yards on 30 plays, and the run game has carved up the Orange for 7.6 yards per carry. SU has failed to make stops at first contact, and given the extent of injuries they’re dealing with all around the defense, they simply can’t keep up. The secondary is getting beat with ease, unfortunately, and with zero end in sight.
Pitt has obviously been the better team here, but the margin doesn’t really tell the full story. As mentioned up top, late in the second quarter, the Panthers were gifted with a ridiculous late-hit call on Syracuse that awarded them an extra 15 yards and a much closer shot at the end zone. They took advantage with 10 seconds to go. The “late hit” in question was a slight touch on Pitt QB Nathan Peterman while he was still inbounds. He shouted for a call and pointed at the defender right after, and suddenly, a flag appeared. Orange coach Dino Babers was incredulous and rightfully so.
Hopefully the game’s result doesn’t come down to those points, but we’ll see what the second half brings. If SU’s offense can operate with the same efficiency they did in the first 30 minutes, we could still have a competitive game on our hands, despite the defensive struggles.