For three quarters, Pitt simply seemed a step behind Syracuse. The defense settled down after allowing a touchdown on the Orange's first drive, but unfortunately, Pitt's offense couldn't do much, either.
That's not to say Pitt didn't have their chances. On a fourth-quarter drive, Pitt climbed to the Syracuse 29 - certainly within kicker Kevin Harper's range (even despite his recent struggles). But a false start penalty and a sack of quarterback Tino Sunseri forced the Panthers to punt.
The Panthers would have an even better chance later in the quarter when they marched the ball down to the 17-yard line. This time, it was a costly 15-yard intentional grounding penalty on Sunseri and another sack that knocked Pitt out of field goal range.
Plenty of reasons could be cited for Pitt's loss, but those two drives may be the biggest. Granted, kicker Kevin Harper has certainly been anything but automatic this season. That was proved when he missed a 42-yard field goal in the first half. But I'll take my chances that he could make one of two field goals in that situation.
One of the biggest issues with this team is that they appear to have little idea of how to handle actual game situations. The team doesn't have much perspective on how to perform at crucial times in the game. The best example of this was the debacle at the end of the first half against Cincinnati, when instead of settling for a field goal, Sunseri held the ball too long and the team didn't even have the opportunity to go for three points.
Pinning the loss solely on Sunseri would be wholly unfair. He did, after all, throw for more than 300 yards and complete 76% of his passes. The sacks hurt, but he didn't throw any interceptions or turn the ball over. But the fact remains that he also made some poor decisions. In particular, the intentional grounding was a huge penalty and really helped change the look of the game. Instead of being in a position to attempt what could have been a game-winning field goal, Sunseri's penalty knocked the team farther backward than they could realistically afford.
At this stage, Pitt needs to (perhaps more than anything else) simply learn how to manage actual game situations. The Panthers missed out on a golden opportunity to win a Big East game and get back into the conference race. Instead, at 0-2, they may have all but assured they cannot win the Big East title.