Pitt Vs. Syracuse: Panthers Win Big In First Conference Road Game, 45-14

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Pitt Vs. Syracuse: Panthers' Offense And Defense Both Impressive In Blowout Win

Pitt started fast and never looked back, winning 45-14 at Syracuse.

After forcing Syracuse to punt on its first possession, quarterback Tino Sunseri found freshman Devin Street on a short screen pass, and Street took the pass the distance for a 79-yard touchdown. I’m not a big fan of Pitt’s screen plays, as they rarely work. But offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti likes them, and this time, it worked.

Even though Syracuse marched down the field on its next possession, the tone was set. Street on that play signified everything about the two teams – Pitt simply had better athletes.

Sunseri put together a second consecutive strong game, going 17-24 for 266 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. While the offense clearly clicked, Sunseri and wideout Jon Baldwin still had problems connecting, as the two only hooked up for one pass. That one pass, though, was a big one - Baldwin took a short pass, then simply outran nearly everyone getting down inside Syacuse’s 10-yard line.

The Panthers fixed their red zone issues from last week. Today, the team was in the red zone four times. Pitt came away with points on each trip with three touchdowns and a field goal. The passing game looked sharp and the running game was just as good. Dion Lewis and Ray Graham again split the carries and combined for 133 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing by Lewis and one receiving by Graham).

The defense deserves just as much credit as Pitt’s offense – maybe more. Jarred Holley and Ricky Gary both intercepted Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib and Gary turned his into a pick six. The team also forced two fumbles and Syracuse’s four turnovers couldn’t have been more costly. Three of the four were in Pitt territory, killing drives, and the fourth was the Gary interception which turned into a Pitt touchdown.

And while Pitt’s running game moved the ball effectively, gaining more than five yards per carry, Syracuse’s struggled. Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey combined for only 63 yards on 20 carries. Carter and Bailey entered the game averaging nearly 150 yards per game.

Today’s game didn’t prove that Pitt is the conference favorite. But it did show that the team should be in the hunt. Syracuse, meanwhile, has to regroup immediately, facing West Virginia and Cincinnati on the road in its next two contests.

For more post-game analysis, check out my wrap-up over at the Pitt blog Cardiac Hill.


Pitt Hopes To Continue Streak Against Orange

PItt travels to Syracuse today for a game against the upstart Orange. The Panthers have won their last five games against the Orange, but Syracuse is 4-1 this season and is looking like one of the school's better teams in recent history.

Syracuse in many ways is like Pitt. The Panthers are only 2-3 on the season and have failed each test thrown their way, as they haven't beaten anyone of consequence. And while the Orange have a good record, they, too are without a big signature win. Truth be told, though, the Orange's win at South Florida last week is far better than either of Pitt's. Also like Pitt, the Orange have a bad blowout loss over their heads when they lost by three touchdowns at Washington.

The 'Cuse is also led by somewhat of a two-headed running attack. The leader is Delone Carter, who averages more than 100 yards per game. While he gets the bulk of the carries, Syracuse also uses Antwon Bailey with regularity and he, like Carter, also averages more than five yards per carry. The two have already racked up more than 700 yards for the season.

And like Pitt, the Orange also have a new starting quarterback in redshirt junior Ryan Nassib. Nassib has performed better than Panther QB Tino Sunseri to this point, but has faced lesser competition for the most part. Nassib, however, has only thrown two interceptions through five games, so he's not the type of player that will typically be forced into bad decisions.

For Pitt, this is a must-win. While the Panthers can't justify starting off 2-3, I've stated time and again that the team can still accomplish its goals by winning a down Big East this season. Now through with non-conference games, Pitt begins its second season. Would a loss eliminate the Panthers from contention in winning the conference? Technically, no. But it's hard to imagine the team beating others in the conference if it loses today. Even if you subscribe to the theory that Syracuse is the best team in the conference, a loss would still put the Panthers 1 1/2 games behind them and the Orange would hold the tiebreaker based on their victory.

Pitt's secondary will be tested - as per Pitt's injury list, it's expected to be without starter Andrew Taglianetti and K'Wuan Williams. Those losses could make an already somewhat weak target even more vulnerable.

This Pitt team has been difficult to figure out. It has looked respectable in close losses at Utah and at Notre Dame, but was also blown out at home against Miami. Today's game, if nothing else, will help determine if the Panthers are still in the hunt for the Big East or not. It's pretty much now or never for Pitt.

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