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.