This loss won’t go down easy.
Pitt’s 14-13 loss to Syracuse on Friday night at the Carrier Dome didn’t have to happen. All Pitt needed was one more score.
But it’s like a baseball team stranding too many runners. It’s nice to get all those hits and get everyone excited, but somebody needs to step to the plate and make something happen.
No one did for Pitt, which managed to score only one touchdown while quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 319 yards and wide receiver Devin Street had a career-high 10 receptions.
With the game in the balance, Pitt moved to the Syracuse 11 and 17 in the third and fourth quarters on two big pass plays totaling 70 yards from Sunseri to wide receiver Mike Shanahan.
But here’s what happened after that:
From the 11:
Isaac Bennett, 1 yard
Sunseri scramble for no gain
From the 17:
Sunseri intentional grounding, 15-yard loss
Sunseri sacked, 9-yard loss
At one point in the game, it appeared coach Paul Chryst was stubbornly sticking to the ground game to a fault, even though Ray Graham ended up with 57 yards on 24 carries (2.4, ouch!).
But the funny thing is, if Chryst gets to the 17 and just runs Graham into the line three times (no matter what he gains), the intentional grounding and sack don’t happen and Kevin Harper would have had a chance to kick a lead-changing field goal. Harper was 2 for 3, missing from 42 yards and hitting from 40 and 27.
Of course, Syracuse could have matched it with a field goal of its own, but the Orange offense had little success against the Pitt defense most of the night.
So, Chryst may have been running too much, but if he runs a little more, maybe Pitt wins the game. But you have to applaud Chryst for trying to win the game with a touchdown. Who knows for sure if a field goal would have been enough?
DEFENSE STANDS TALL
Pitt never touched the ball in the final 4:52, allowing Syracuse to run 11 plays and convert three of them into first downs.
I can’t blame the defense because it had played almost flawlessly after Syracuse’s 70-yard scoring drive on its first series of the game.
In the past three games, in fact, Pitt has given up only five touchdowns – two on fumble recoveries, one on a punt and one on an 85-yard pass play. Syracuse has been the only team to march the football down the field against the Panthers in that time.
And then there is this:
USC allowed Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to throw for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Against Pitt, on Nassib’s home turf, the numbers were 185 and zero.
What does it all mean?
Pitt plays hard and plays well at times, but it must learn to win close games. A one-point loss counts as much and hurts even more than a 21-point loss.
“There (were) moments when you can win that game,” Chryst said, “and that’s what we have to get to.”
The normally raucous Carrier Dome became fearfully quiet in the fourth quarter when Syracuse strong safety Shamarko Thomas lost his helmet and fell to the turf while trying to tackle Pitt freshman tight end J.P. Holtz. For several seconds, most of the 40,394 people in attendance didn’t know if Thomas was moving or not.
Players from both teams and medical personnel huddled around him. Sunseri went to his knees and blessed himself.
Thomas eventually stood up and walked off under his own power. But it was a hold-your-breath moment.
TALKING FUTURE SCHEDULES
Is the Backyard Brawl coming back?
Pitt’s athletic director Steve Pederson indicated that it’s not out of the question.
When the ACC said it will play only eight conference games, starting next year when Pitt and Syracuse join, it left room for its schools to play four non-conference games. Pederson said two of those could be against BCS foes.
And with Notre Dame cycling through the entire 14-team ACC, Pitt will only play the Irish four times in a 14-year period, leaving openings for West Virginia, Penn State, Iowa and other Big Ten schools
Pederson said the renewal topic has come up in his recent conversations with West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, but the talk may become more serious in the future.
“Now this maybe gives us some room to have that discussion,” Pederson said.
Pitt already is contracted to play Penn State in 2016 and 2017, but Pederson wants to explore the possibility of playing other games with the Nittany Lions.
“We are hopeful we can get the consistency with Penn State,” he said.
Don’t expect anything to happen immediately, even though Pitt has one opening on its 2013 non-conference schedule. The Panthers will open next season at home against Villanova, a team Pitt has played only twice (1911 and 1998). They also will play Notre Dame at home and visit Navy. The other opening has yet to be finalized, Pederson said.