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Syracuse 28, Pitt 13: Orange ground assault flattens Panthers

Simply run the offense like it’s 1923 and good things will happen, I guess

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange used a relentless ground attack to overwhelm the Pittsburgh Panthers at Yankee Stadium. The defense forced three massive turnovers in the second half to aid the Orange rushing game as Syracuse picked up a crucial 28-13 win over the Panthers. Behind the power of 382 total rushing yards, the Orange need one more win in its final two games to reach bowl eligibility.

The game didn’t start without drama as it was unclear who would start the game for the Orange at quarterback. Initial warmups saw Braden Davis and Luke MacPhail lead the Orange, but Garrett Shrader emerged from the Yankee Stadium home dugout about an hour before kickoff with his pads in hand. Syracuse’s QB1 returned after being inactive last week against Boston College.

What followed was one of Syracuse’s most efficient drives of the year with a relentless ground attack. It became very clear that the Orange weren’t going to throw much with LeQuint Allen and Dan Villari taking multiple direct snaps during the drive. However, that didn’t stop the Orange offense from methodically marching down the field for Syracuse’s first opening drive touchdown of the season. The final play of the 10-play drive was Shrader’s first pass of the game, and cameras caught the QB favoring his right shoulder or collarbone after the throw.

Syracuse’s defense held strong throughout the first half, preventing the Pitt offense from getting much purchase downfield. All of Christian Veilleux’s passing were kept short of the first down marker. Pitt running back Rodney Hammond only had 12 rushing yards on four carries after setting a career high 124 rushing yards in his first ever start for Pitt last season against the Orange.

The second quarter saw much of the same, but the constant Orange rush kept on get sidetracked by fumbles. Syracuse fumbled the ball three times in the first half, and while the Orange only lost one of those fumbles, each one almost immediately killed off the Syracuse drive. Pitt picked up a touchdown after a Panthers route crossed up Orange defenders to put the Panthers in the red zone.

Big plays put Pitt ahead at the end of the first half. Two separate passes from Christian Veilleux went for 92 of the Pitt quarterback’s 149 first half passing yards. Each pass led to a Pitt touchdown and field goal as the Panthers entered the half time locker room with a 13-7 lead over the Orange.

A reversal of fortunes to start the 3rd quarter gave the Orange the lead again. This time it would be Pitt who fumbled as a messy handoff put the ball on the ground and it was recovered by Jayden Bellamy. Syracuse responded with a drive mainly led by Dan Villari at QB battling, bruising and bullying his way on the ground to extend the drive.

On 4th and 1 from the 21, Shrader went back in the pistol to take the snap. He faked a handoff to Allen on an option play and with Pitt hard committing to stop Syracuse’s running back, Shrader leaked to the outside and found the end zone to give Syracuse the lead right back.

And after what seemed like forever, the Orange defense finally came up with the big turnover that it had deserved over the past two weeks of football. With Pitt backed up in its own endzone after the Orange failed to convert a 4th down from the two, Veilleux attempted a floated pass to the right sideline. Bellamy read the pass perfectly and grabbed his second takeaway of the game. He had green grass in front of him and took the rock back to the house to increase Syracuse’s lead to 21-13 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

Syracuse’s third takeaway of the game also set up another Orange score. Veilleux botched a handoff for the second time and Terry Lockett fell on the ball to give the Orange prime field position. Dan Villari took advantage of the opportunity to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark as he punched the ball in for a much deserved 27-yard score. The Orange led 28-13 at that point.

Midway through the fourth quarter, LeQuint Allen joined Villari as Cuse players to reach the 100-yard rush mark. Allen would finish with 102 rush yards while Villari had 154 rush yards. This would be the first time that Syracuse had two rushers over 100 yards since a 41-36 win over Virginia Tech on October 21, 2021. Shrader had 174 rushing yards against the Hokies that day while Sean Tucker added 112. Shrader for his part had 96 yards against the Panthers.

Poetically, the game was sealed when Stefon Thompson stripped the football away from Hammond and Kevon Darton fell on the ball. The Orange picked up its fourth turnover of the game, which provided a much needed boost to the Mob after many missed opportunities to pick up takeaways over the last two games.

Syracuse moves to 5-5 on the season and has two chances to get to a second consecutive bowl game. The first opportunity comes in Atlanta against Georgia Tech on November 18 at 8:00. Syracuse then closes out the regular season on November 25 at the JMA Wireless Dome against Wake Forest.