A heartbreaking football season for SU comes to an end

The Syracuse University football team could not secure a bowl bid in its season finale, losing to the University of Pittsburgh, 33-20. The loss marks the fifth-straight for SU to end the season.


The final death of this team was not painless. Nor was it quick. Once again, turnovers, penalties and a lack of red zone execution were key factors.

There was a ray of hope, though, a moment where it seemed like Syracuse (5-6, 1-6 Big East) would come back into this game. Sure, there was 94 yards to cover, but 12 of them had already disappeared on one throw, a nice slant to widereceiver Alec Lemon. As Ryan Nassib broke the huddle, it seemed like the Orange might finally win one after a long, four-game skid.

Then, Pittsburgh (6-6, 4-3 Big East) defenders Brandon Lindsey and Antwuan Reed, in one moment, stole that hope. Lindsey, an outside linebacker, nailed Nassib from behind, making the ball lazily float in the hands of Reed, a cornerback, who sprinted down the sideline and gleefully celebrated in the end zone. 

In a half that had seen Pitt give away countless opportunities at victory, this fumble recovery was all the Panthers would need to secure a bowl berth. 

The play capped a demoralizing 33-20 defeat at the hands of the Panthers, one that mercifully ended a five-game losing streak that moved the Syracuse Orange from 5-2 to bowlless. The turnover was one of many for SU and, coupled with 95 yards sacrfiied through penalties, the Orange crumbled Saturday. For the second time in three seasons under head coach Doug Marrone, Syracuse will not participate in the postseason.

“It’s a lot of emotion because, at times, we had the game,” senior safety Olando Fisher said after playing in the final game of his Syracuse career. “But then, it just shifted.” 

It was a familiar refrain to those who watched the Orange this season. Once again, critical mistakes in all parts of the game crippled Syracuse from pulling out win number six on the season.   

The mistakes started early for the Orange, as Dorian Graham misplayed the first kickoff straight into the hands of the Panthers. The result was an easy touchdown for Pitt, who converted on their first offensive play, a quick throw from Tino Sunseri to Isaac Bennett out of the backfield, who rumbled 22 yards for the touchdown.

The defense, for their part, had some trouble with the Pitt offense on the day. Bennett, a true freshman who made his first start for the Panthers because of injuries to both Ray Graham and his backup Zach Brown, rushed for 51 yards on 13 carries, adding seven catches, 61 receiving yards and the above touchdown. Anthony Gonzalez, the Panthers’ main weapon in the Wildcat offense, ran for 36 yards on 6 carries, including a 17 yard score.

Sunseri, the beleaguered quarterback, had no problem throwing against the Syracuse defense. Sunseri threw for 259 yards and a touchdown against the Orange, his best total since a victory over the University of Connecticut.

SU, though, did see some success when it brought pressure, as it managed to force Sunseri into a variety of incompletions and four sacks. The group also forced a turnover from the quarterback, as Chandler Jones leaped up to intercept a swing pass before taking it into Pittsburgh territory.

“We just thought about bringing pressure to him and then backing off, bringing pressure and backing off,” Fisher said. “And sometimes it worked.”

Offensively, there were some bright moments and broken records. Nassib threw for a school record 2,685 yards, the most by an Orange quarterback in Syracuse history. Antwon Bailey finished with over 1,000 yards for the season, as he rushed for 1,051 yards on the year. Don’t forget tight end Nick Provo, who set the Syracuse career receptions by a tight end, as he finished with 92 catches in his career. Plus, Alec Lemon demolished the single-season receptions record, finishing with 68 on the year and obliterating the original mark set by Mike Williams and Kevin Johnson. 

Lemon had the best day of anyone wearing Orange in this game. The junior was Nassib’s favorite target, securing eight passes on the day for 99 yards. Lemon also attempted another wide receiver pass, but scrambled as the coverage downfield forced his hand.

Provo also continued his solid play. The tight end added to his legend in this game, moving past former All-American Chris Gedney on the all-time list for receptions by a tight end. He had 37 additional yards receiving and assisted in the ground game with his blocking.

Bailey had a tough time on the ground, though, rushing for 53 yards on 18 carries. But Bailey did some damage catching the ball, securing five receptions for 43 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown on a screen pattern for the Orange’s first points.

Don’t forget about the performance of Jerome Smith either. The sophomore running back rumbled to the tune of 56 yards on 10 carries, bringing a hugely physical presence to the game. The first drive of the second half was a microcosm of Smith’s performance, as he turned a short gain into a 10-yard one, simply by continuing to move his feet against a pile of blockers and defensive linemen. He then punctuated the drive with a 10-yard plunge, accentuating his performance.

“I was just running, man,” said Smith of his performance. “I just wanted to win.”

Nassib, the focal point of this offense, once again had an up-and-down game. Despite facing constant pressure, Nassib completed 71 percent of his passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. The senior also showed poise in the pocket, scrambling away from pressure and rushing when he thought it was necessary.

On the other side of the equation, though, were the turnovers. The first was a strike to Lindsey on what looked to be a communication error. The final turnover was a pass that bounced off of Van Chew’s hands and plopped straight into Andrew Taglianetti’s hands. Sandwiched in between was a fumble forced by Lindsey when he stripped Nassib. 

With the lackluster turnover margin, the lack of discipline and inefficient redzone play, the Orange slumped through its last regular season game, finishing a heartbreaking 2011 season. 

To Marrone, the culprit was obvious. 

“It’s kind of the same story of the season,” Marrone said. “Turnovers and not taking advantage of things in the red zone of the right time.”


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