Syracuse fumbles away bowl opportunity

The final game of Syracuse’s season encapsulated the reasons for their late season slide and failure to become bowl eligible – the inability to overcome penalties, failure to make big plays on offense, and a defense that could not force turnovers.  The Orange (5-7, 1-6 Big East) combined these ingredients for their fifth consecutive loss, this time dropping a 33-20 decision at Pittsburgh.

In a game where they were in direct competition with the Panthers (6-6, 4-3) for bowl eligibility, SU piled up 95 yards on ten penalties, failed to have an offensive play longer than 27 yards, and forced only one turnover. In stark contrast, Pitt forced six turnovers by Syracuse, who had only given up the ball 13 times in 11 previous games.  The Panthers turned those miscues into 20 points on the day.

Syracuse got off to a terrible start as they failed to cover a short opening kickoff and a Pitt player pounced on the ball.  Just as in last year’s matchup, Pitt scored on their first play from scrimmage on a pass, this time taking a 7-0 lead with ten seconds off the clock.  Ryan Nassib threw an interception two plays later and the Panthers turned it into a field goal for a 10-0 lead just 2:25 into the game.  SU responded with a scoring drive, moving 63 yards in nine plays and getting into the end zone when Antwon Bailey took a short pass and sprinted down the sideline, vaulting over a tackler and the goal line.  Ross Krautman knocked the extra point through to make it 10-7 in favor of the hosts.  Pitt matched the touchdown and regained their double-digit lead at 17-7.  On their first possession of the second quarter, the Orange got within seven when they notched a 22-yard Krautman field goal.  Two possessions later, the Panthers got a field goal of their own to go up 20-10 and took that lead into the locker room.

SU’s Chandler Jones stopped Pitt’s opening drive of the third quarter with an interception that he returned 32 yards to the Panther 28.  Four plays later, Jerome Smith bulled into the end zone on a ten-yard scoring run.  Krautman’s extra point got the Orange to within three at 20-17 under three minutes into the period.  Syracuse could not hang on to the momentum, though, and gave up field goals on the next two Panther possessions, the second started when Nassib fumbled the ball while scrambling for a first down.  Trailing 26-17 early in the fourth, SU ground out a 19-play, 83-yard drive resulting in a 23-yard field goal by Krautman and a six-point deficit with 4:40 to play.  The Orange defense forced a punt, but that punt gave the Syracuse offense the ball at their own six-yard-line.  On the second play of the possession, Nassib was hit from behind and lost the ball, which floated into the arms of a Pitt defender and was returned for a backbreaking touchdown and a 33-20 lead with 2:34 left.  Nassib was intercepted on the first play of the ensuing Syracuse drive and the Panthers drained the clock from there.

Ryan Nassib completed 23-of-32 passes in the game for 225 yards, but had two passes intercepted to go with a touchdown toss.  Jerome Smith led the Syracuse rushing attack, gaining 56 yards on ten carries.  Alec Lemon caught eight passes in the game for 99 yards.  The Syracuse defense made some big plays in the game, including an interception and four sacks as part of 12 tackles for loss.  Chandler Jones had the interception and had a pair of tackles for loss.  Kevyn Scott and Marquis Spruill also had a pair of tackles for loss.  Olando Fisher and Deon Goggins were each credited with a sack while Siriki Diabate and Spruill split another.

With his efforts today, Ryan Nassib became the single-season passing yard leader in school history with 2,685 yards, as well as tying the school record for touchdown passes in a season at 22.  He also broke his own record for completions in a season with 259.

Antwon Bailey became the 15th player in school history to amass 1,000 rushing yards in a season, finishing with 1,051.  Bailey also is now the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards by a running back with 706.

Nick Provo caught five passes in the game, which gives him 92 receptions in his career, a Syracuse record for a tight end.  Provo also ended his career with a streak of at least one reception in 25 straight games, the longest stretch for any SU tight end.

Alec Lemon set a single-season record at Syracuse with 68 receptions.

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
Turnovers, penalties doom Syracuse in loss to Pittsburgh
Instant Juice: Syracuse 20, Pittsburgh 33
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