What started with some encouraging pace and some quality passing ended with a thud for the Syracuse Orange on Friday night. And in the middle was a calamity on offense that led to three different players lining up behind center in a 27-20 loss to the rival Pittsburgh Panthers.
Tommy DeVito was under siege once again, but still managed to deliver some quality balls early. Unfortunately several of those were dropped, and the Orange offense looked a lot like what we’d seen for three quarters against NC State last week: sputtering, inconsistent and its own worse enemy when it came to penalties (SU had nine for 78 yards).
The Orange and Pitt were tied at 3 early, then Pitt took a 10-3 lead. That gave way to a 24-6 advantage by halftime before things got weird.
Still, the story of the game will be what happened to Syracuse’s quarterbacks. We’ve seen bad games for this line much of the year, but they were a relative no-show against Pitt on Friday as Orange quarterbacks were sacked nine times and pressured another five to seven times on top of that. DeVito feeling the heat eventually led to him taking a big hit while scrambling in the third quarter, which ushered in Clayton Welch.
Welch doesn’t have the arm DeVito does, but still managed to complete a 94-yard touchdown pass to Taj Harris to make it 24-13 right after the DeVito injury. The JUCO passer was just 8-of-20 for 176 yards and two touchdowns. But he also ran for 62 yards (net 36 when accounting for sacks), picking up some critical first downs.
That was largely the only run threat all game, though. Moe Neal had 22 net yards (19 on one rush) and Abdul Adams had just 10 yards. Sean Riley (nine) and Nykeim Johnson (eight) each got opportunities on the ground as the team tried to get more creative with how to move the football.
Without a real rushing attack, the onus fell to the receivers, who were hot and cold all night. Harris had three receptions for 111 yards and the aforementioned score. Trishton Jackson wound up with five grabs for 76 yards, and Johnson had three for 47. Riley was used as quality safety valve to the tune of five catches for 32 yards. Aaron Hackett had two catches for 14 yards, including a fourth quarter score to make it 27-20 (that one, right after he ran the ball for three yards to earn a crucial fourth down conversion).
The reason Syracuse stuck around for awhile given those struggles was obviously the defense, which hasn’t always looked amazing, but has weathered some storms all season as they’re overworked game after game. Syracuse had six TFLs, including three sacks (two by Josh Black). In the second half, they allowed just three points and looked great against the run in particular.
There’s plenty more to say about this game and season, which now hangs by a thread as Syracuse is 3-4 on the year and 0-3 in conference play. Keep it here and let’s try to be civil to each other. We know everyone’s in a bad state of mind, but no reason to turn on one another.