Syracuse’s offense started the game looking a lot crisper, with quicker play-calling and passes, but that unfortunately derailed by the third drive — as Tommy DeVito kept taking hits from a combination of misguided up-the-gut runs and an increasing number of sacks. The Orange led 3-0, then trailed 7-3 after one quarter. Then DeVito was at least temporarily knocked out of the game a few minutes into the second.
That’s when Rex Culpepper delivered a 69-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Taj Harris to take back the lead at 10-7. Pitt would tack on another TD to lead 14-10, and also missed a field goal try and botched the snap on another. Those mistakes — plus the fumble recovery from Mikel Jones in the first quarter — help explain how SU has managed to hang tight in this one despite an offense that’s still struggled mightily.
On the day, DeVito is 5-for-8 for just 27 yards, though he’s also been sacked four times (ugh). Culpepper is 2-for-3 for 78 yards and the aforementioned score. As you’d expect, Harris leads all receivers with two grabs for 75 yards and a TD. Nykeim Johnson has three catches for 13 yards, while Anthony Queeley ad Courtney Jackson have each hauled in one pass. Drops have remained a problem in this one, which hasn’t helped momentum at all.
The run game still isn’t doing much of anything, though Sean Tucker did come in and surprise a bit, with two carries for 12 yards. Jawhar Jordan has four carries for nine, while Culpepper and DeVito both have negative rushing yards via sacks (though DeVito also had some gains).
For Syracuse, the highlights once more come from the defense, which hasn’t looked as locked-in at times compared to what we saw last week, but has still held its own in key spots. Ja’Had Carter, seemingly playing for Eric Coley, leads the team with six stops but Pitt appears to be picking on him a bit. He also has a TFL. Stefon Thompson, Josh Black, Cody Roscoe and Tyrell Richards also have TFLs on the day, with three of those (from Thompson, Black and Roscoe) coming on sacks of Kenny Pickett.
As mentioned, Jones collected a fumble recovery in the first quarter, after a screen pass Pitt thought went forward hit the ground. But without a whistle, SU was quick to jump on it.
On special teams, Andre Szmyt is 1-for-1 on field goals. Syracuse struggled in the red zone once again (nothing new there after a decade of issues), including a puzzling sequence where a nice screen pass gave way to a dive from DeVito and then another by Culpepper to settle for the three-point try. The Orange are also just 2-for-7 on third down. Most of those struggles are created by short gains or losses on first down.
Pitt will get the ball at the half, and we’ll see if Syracuse’s defense can keep the Orange hanging around — or if the offense can show its first real signs of life this year. They’re still very much in this one. Just going to take some corrections on both sides of the ball to make it happen.
Leave your second half thoughts here. We’ll have a quick recap up right after the game wraps up.