Pittsburgh 21 Syracuse 10
[Pittsburgh,PA] In the aftermath of their 55-0 Season-opening victory, all week the talk was how the Pitt Panthers football team could give playing time to those who could not get in that blowout against Austin Peay State. Ergo, if the #25th-Ranked Panthers would also blow out this week’s opponent, the Syracuse Orange as they open Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play.
Unfortunately, reality does not always line up with one’s expectations as the Panthers did not blow out the Orange but did manage to beat them 21-10 in front of another empty-seated Heinz Field, due to Covid-19 protocols.
It was not as easy as their 55-0 slaughter, but the Panthers got it done and are now 2-0 (1-0 ACC) on the season.
“Okay. Obviously, we are 1-0 in the ACC and the goal was to come out here today and be 1-0. It is a win. It was a lot uglier than I would like it to be and I told the team afterwards. Just disappointed more with just the penalties that we had, just some stuff that you don’t expect to happen at all.” Said Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.
It’s hard to say whether Panthers thought they could just ‘show-up’ and manhandle the Orange like they did The Governors, but these types of games can serve as ‘traps’ for a team that blew out an opponent the week before. But Pitt should know better than to have that mentality since Syracuse has been a conference rival since 1916, and on any given Saturday, a team can be prepared to upset the other.
Nevertheless, the Panthers got it done.
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett may have not been as flashy as he was last week, but he was efficient at times as he passed for 221 yards and 2 TDs, but he also began to show signs of the nervous QB from years’ past especially as he threw his first interception deep in Syracuse territory. But his 2nd TD pass to WR Jared Wayne helped seal the victory and proved that he can rebound from his struggles. Pickett’s other TD pass was to RB Jordan Addison in the first quarter.
The running game was also solid as 5 backs collectively rushed for 127 yards. Vincent Davis led the way with 53 yards.
For the Orange (0-2, 0-2 ACC), their passing game struggled as DeVito passed for 32 yards and an interception, but his backup Rex Culpepper passed for 88 yards and threw for the team’s only TD.
But the Panthers opponent was mostly themselves as they struggled to consistently execute on offense with penalties (several pre-snap), dropped passes and a 2nd turnover-which the Orange turned into an early FG. They also missed on 3 FG opportunities of their own as K Alex Kessman was not able to generate any points and is now 0-3 on the season.
“I think we had one in the opener and we continue to just not get lined up perfect. And we had a couple on the punt team as well where we had some misalignments or just, you know, not being on the ball or off the ball, so we just got to clean them up and again go from week two to week three and clean that stuff up. We should have zero pre-snap penalties. Zero.”-Said Narduzzi
On rethinking their strategy with Kessman’s struggles, Narduzzi replied “Based on the down and distance, we are always thinking about going for it, that’s our mindset. But it has got to be the right distance, no doubt about it. But no, we got a lot of faith in Alex. Again, he started off slow last year and then just heated up. So, we just got to figure out what his issue is, and we got a lot of faith in him.”
But it was the defense that kept the Panthers in the game as they sacked Syracuse QB 7 times (led by DE Jared Weaver’s 2), recovered a fumble (by DE Deslin Alexandre) and intercepted a pass (by S Paris Ford). And even though they gave up a 69-yard TD pass to WR Taj Harris, which gave the Orange a temporary 14-10 lead, the defense performed admirably.
Even when they are not playing at their best, great teams know how to respond, which the Panthers did today. It is always easier to know what to improve on with a win.
The Panthers must now prepare to face the Louisville Cardinals next Saturday as they dig deeper into their conference schedule.
“We could have knocked them out early in the third quarter.” Said Narduzzi “We gave them opportunities and, again, defense stood up and survived. Special teams, still disappointed in our field goal team. And again, a lot of things I am disappointed in, but I’m happy we got the W.”
Notes: Pitt announced that 3 players missed the game due to Covid-19 protocols.
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