There was hope in the Carrier Dome after a 14 play, 75 yard drive to open the game. That resulted in a Syracuse touchdown.
Boy, did it go downhill from there.
The Syracuse Orange couldn’t find any consistency against the Pittsburg Panthers in the final game of the regular season. Meanwhile, Kenny Pickett continued to find more rhythm as the game went on and found the seams in the Syracuse defense to pick apart the Orange. All of that resulted in a 31-14 Syracuse loss that ended the Orange’s season.
The first quarter started very well for the Orange, which included a great opening script on the first drive. The defense as well forced Pitt to go three and out twice, which had the Orange fans sensing a good game.
Then the Pitt defense buckled down. The Panthers neutralized Sean Tucker so much that the star running back became a non factor in the game. Pitt forced Shrader to beat them with his arm and he couldn’t do so. Shrader did his best to try and scramble for some extra yards as well but the Panthers blocked that as well.
“They fit the box heavy,” said Shrader. “They were trying to fit seven, eight guys in the box.”
Meanwhile, Pickett was gaining momentum after an 11 play, 75 yard drive and a short field drive after a Devaughn Cooper fumble. The star quarterback threw for 91 yards on 10 passes in the 2nd quarter and got room to operate with his running backs gaining enough yards on rushes up the middle of the Syracuse defense.
And then the second half happened. The Orange came out slow in the second half and the Pitt receivers took advantage of quite a few missed tackles to set up two scores. Pickett had another 90+ yard quarter on 12 passes. He ended the game with 209 yards on 28-38 passing for four touchdowns, which took his season total to 40 passing touchdowns on the season.
“It’s hard to keep those guys down continuously,” said Syracuse head coach Dino Babers.
The Orange offense found some life again in the third quarter on a drive that saw Shrader complete passes over the middle to guys in the slot. Shrader finished with more passing yards than Pickett, going 17-24 for 217 yards. However, too many drives stalled out to give Syracuse a chance.
The loss gave Syracuse a chance to reflect on the season, after Syracuse went 1-10 in the previous campaign. Some fans thought that with not much changing in terms of personnel that Syracuse was destined for a similar record. However, the Orange rallied to get one win away from bowl eligibility after some had written this team off before a ball was snapped.
“The super seniors came back and bridged something that would be different,” said Babers.
A lot of attention goes to the offseason now, as fans look forward to how the offense may look under Garrett Shrader next year after a full offseason as the starting quarterback. The Orange will have to replace the entire defensive line as Josh Black, Kingsley Jonathan, Cody Roscoe, and McKinley Williams all graduate.
Then there’s the looming decisions of Mikel Jones and Garrett Williams, both of whom are NFL draft eligible. Jones said after the game that he was 50-50 on whether to enter the draft or come back to Syracuse. He said that he would like to make a decision on that matter by next week.
Nonetheless, Syracuse finished one win just shy of a bowl, which is a massive improvement considering the state of this team last season. And whether changes come or not in all areas of the field, the Orange have some extra added momentum and hope to build on this season to make a bowl next year.