The Syracuse Orange football team wasn’t favored to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday night, but there was always the hope they could pull the upset and clinch a bowl bid. Unfortunately, that hope didn’t last much past halftime as SU fell to Pitt, 31-14.
Syracuse actually started the game off looking sharper on offense than they had in a month. Garrett Shrader was 6-of-6 on that initial drive, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Courtney Jackson to take a 7-0 lead. But the Orange struggled to move the ball for the rest of the first half and into the second before a TD drive in the closing minutes of the third. By that point, though, Pitt had scored 28 straight points to open up a three-score lead.
Down 28-14 early in the fourth, a Duce Chestnut interception gave SU the ball back while also putting a stop to a would-be scoring drive for Pitt that was likely to seal the game. Of course, the ensuing Orange drive was a three-and-out, and a long Pitt punt return set up a Panthers field goal after a time-sucking drive. Syracuse didn’t move with enough urgency to make anything happen late, and that’s all she wrote.
Up against one of the best rushing defenses in the country, the Orange ground game was stifled repeatedly throughout the evening, which forced the offense to function more through Shrader — both running the ball and through the air. While that didn’t work for long stretches, the QB also put together some nice scoring drives that were largely reliant on downfield throws. He finished the game 17-of-24 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
But as mentioned, the rushing attack was not able to generate a whole lot. Sean Tucker had just 29 yards on 13 carries, while Shrader had minus-2 yards on his attempts (including sacks). Jackson was the primary beneficiary of the pass-focused attack, catching seven balls for 73 yards and the aforementioned two scores. Devaughn Cooper hauled in three passes for 49 yards, and Tucker had two catches of his own. Anthony Queeley, Oronde Gadsden, Damien Alford and Luke Benson each snagged one.
On defense, there were some issues with both zone and man coverage, but the team did manage to generate consistent pressure on Kenny Pickett, leaving him far from comfortable on the night. Mikel Jones recorded an impressive 17 tackles, while Marlowe Wax and Stefon Thompson each had 10. Wax had the team’s lone sack, while Chestnut had two TFLs and Jones had one. Duce also had the aforementioned pick — the team’s first since the Florida State game.
Overall, it was a pretty disappointing effort, though also indicative of what we’ve seen on the field throughout the month of November. Syracuse was 5-4 after nine games while playing all opponents pretty close. After the bye, however, teams figured out the improvisation offense Shrader was running, the defense showed some holes, and the Orange wound up in three one-sided contests that doomed bowl hopes.
There’s more to talk about with regard to what this means for Dino Babers, his coaching staff and the team, and we’ll start having those conversations tomorrow in this space. But for now, Syracuse is 5-7 and finishes with a losing record for the fifth time in six seasons under Babers. That’s difficult to stomach, especially given the promise this year once had. It’s going to be another long offseason.