Syracuse football: Pittsburgh rushers bowl past sluggish Orange defense

The Panthers pile up 256 rushing yards in a convincing 23-point victory.

A Pittsburgh defense that had given up an astounding 147 points over its past three games presented the Syracuse offense with a great opportunity to turn around what has been a dismal season.

Instead, the Orange stumbled to only 255 yards and 7 points – the lone touchdown coming from defensive end Ron Thompson on a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter - in a 30-7 loss at Heinz Field on Saturday, marking the Orange’s eighth loss in its past nine games.

"There's no point in hanging our heads... We don't want to be a joke in the ACC."
— Syracuse quarterback AJ Long

Right from the start, Syracuse found itself playing catch-up.

Fielding the opening kickoff at his own 2-yard line, Pitt’s Tyler Boyd raced untouched down the left sideline for a 98-yard touchdown. Fortunately for Syracuse, the touchdown was called back because of a penalty.

Despite the fast start, the Panthers’ opening drive stalled near midfield. After a Ritchy Desir fair catch at the 16-yard line, Syracuse quickly went three-and-out thanks to a premature snap that forced Prince-Tyson Gulley into a seven-yard loss.

Following a missed field goal attempt, Gulley fumbled the ball back to the Panthers at his own 28 yard line. Pitt running back James Conner later bulled into the end zone from one yard out for his 22nd rushing touchdown of the season, setting an ACC record for most in a single season.

Driving into the red zone late in the first quarter, SU quarterback AJ Long threw a drive-killing interception in the back of the end zone intended for freshman wide receiver Steve Ishmael.

“(The Panthers) did a great job of forcing turnovers early,” SU head coach Scott Shafer said. “I think that was a big part of their momentum that gave them an opportunity to get after us.”

Trailing 10-0 in the second quarter, Scott Shafer and the Orange turned to Mitch Kimble for a spark. However, Kimble looked uncomfortable and hesitant as the Orange continued to struggle against one of the conference’s worst defensive units.

“We have two freshmen who we think have great abilities,” Shafer said. “We felt like both of them can do certain things that could keep us competitive today.”

Meanwhile, Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik hooked up with Dontrez Ford for an 11-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 17-0 lead.

Three plays later, Kimble threw a fluky interception that popped up into the air off the hands of Gulley. But with the Panthers looking to add more points before the end of the half, Orange corner Antwan Cordy – playing in place of the injured Julian Whigham and Corey Winfield – made an impressive interception in the back of the end zone to end the threat.

“I was happy for Antwan,” Shafer said. “He’s been so important for us in the kicking game, but he did a nice job stepping in for Corey and Julian. Any time a young corner steps in, the other team will go right at him, but he did a nice job out there, which was good to see.”

With Long under center to start the second half, the Orange marched 75 yards in 10 plays and scored on Thompson’s touchdown. On the drive, Long hooked up with Ishmael for a big 46-yard gain.

Ishmael finished with a career-high six catches for 97 yards in the loss.

“I don’t really care about my performance. I just wanted to win,” Ishmael said. “I wanted to win for the seniors. I really don’t care about the stats.”

Following the touchdown, the Panthers chewed up nearly seven minutes of clock behind the tough running of Chris James and Isaac Bennett, who took over for the injured Conner.

The pair racked up 197 rushing yards. James finished with 122 yards on 19 carries. As the Panthers pounded the ball on the ground, SU couldn’t mount a charge.

“It was very difficult to get momentum today,” Shafer said. “Anytime that you struggle on first down to stop the other team, you have to force turnovers.

“On the flip side, we couldn’t sustain drives. It’s a big gain of momentum, but we have to move the football. If you don’t have momentum swings, it’s difficult to be in position to win games.

The Panthers finished with 445 total yards on 72 plays.

Long completed 10 of 19 passes for 149 yards and one interception. As a team, SU finished with 106 rushing yards on 29 carries.

“There’s no point in hanging our heads,” Long said. “We’ve got another opponent coming up. (Boston College's) defense is playing really well, so we can’t hang our heads because if we aren’t ready we’ll get thrashed. We don’t want to be a joke in the ACC.”

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.