It was a play that was representative of Syracuse’s afternoon, if not the second half of its season.
With just under three minutes to play and the Orange trailing 26-20 from its 18-yard line, quarterback Ryan Nassib was hit by linebacker Brandon Lindsey and lost the ball. In swooped cornerback Antwuan Reed, who scooped up the ball and went untouched 20 yards for a touchdown, putting the game out of reach, and effectively sending Syracuse into the offseason.
The play was one of six SU turnovers on the afternoon, as the Panthers went on to win 33-20. For the Orange, it was its fifth straight loss, leaving the team with a record of 5-7, one win short of bowl eligibility.
“We had an opportunity to get some things done this season,” Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said to reporters following the game. “It’s a shame that we weren’t able to accomplish that.”
Syracuse seemed doomed right from the start of the game.
Dorian Graham fumbled the kickoff and Pittsburgh capitalized one play later for a 7-0 lead. On Syracuse’s second play from scrimmage, Nassib threw the first of his two interceptions. It was almost as if Nassib was aiming for Lindsey, who caused havoc for the Orange all day with six tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack and the aforementioned interception.
That led to a field goal, and with 12:35 in the first quarter, the Orange was already down 10-0.
Even though Syracuse hung around the whole game, it could never quite get things right. Besides the turnovers, the Orange also was flagged 10 times for 95 yards compared to just two penalties for Pittsburgh. Syracuse was also only able to force one Panther turnover.
Fittingly, Syracuse’s last drive of the season ended on a Nassib interception, this time to Andrew Taglianetti, for SU’s sixth turnover.
“Six takeaways today was really impressive,” Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham said. “I told our players that today was about imposing will – that the two teams would try to impose their will on one another. I think our guys did that.”
That has been common theme for opposing teams in Syracuse’s final five games.
The Orange mostly looked lost following its dramatic 49-23 win over then-No. 11 West Virginia on Oct. 21. In the five games after the win, Syracuse really only had a shot of winning at Connecticut, who, like Syracuse, finished the season 5-7 and will be sitting at home during bowl season.
It was a step in the wrong direction for a team that had won a bowl game for the first time in nearly a decade last year.
“We wanted to go to a bowl game two years in a row and we weren’t able to accomplish that,” Marrone said. “Obviously, we have a lot of work ahead of us and we have to start that tomorrow.”