Syracuse’s defense that propelled SU to its first win in nine tries against an FBS opponent in a 14-13 win over Pittsburgh on Friday night.
Besides holding Pitt to 346 yards and just 27 yards on the ground, the defense also put its own points on the board with a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The score came with 3:25 left in the first quarter. With the ball at midfield, Pitt QB Tino Suneri found tight end Drew Carwell over the middle, but SU’s Jeremi Wilkes delivered a perfect hit, jarring the ball loose. Dyshawn Davis did the rest, taking the ball 52 yards for the score.
“Jeremi Wilkes did a good job of stripping it and I saw the ball on the ground,” Davis said. “My eyes got big and I knew I had to get in the end zone.”
The defense was stellar in the fourth quarter as well. Twice in the final period, the Panthers put themselves within field goal range with a chance of taking the lead. Each time, a key sack on third down forced a punt instead of a field goal attempt.
With a little over 11 minutes left, Brandon Sharpe sacked Sunseri on third and 20 at the Syracuse 48 yard line when Pittsburgh had driven to the 29.
On Pitt’s ensuing drive, the Panthers marched all the way down to the Syracuse 17 before a Sharpe found Sunseri again, forcing the Panthers back to the 32 yard line. On the very next play, Brandon Reddish come away with another sack, and suddenly the Panthers were punting from SU’s 41.
“We have to be able to pick up (the blitz),” Sunseri said. “It’s something you have to be able to recognize. It’s my job to right the ship on that and I’ll be able to do that next time.”
For the game, SU had five sacks for a loss of 51 yards.
Was it the best performance for the defense this season?
“Collectively, yes,” defensive tackle Jay Bromly said. “We definitely combined for great coverage today.”