Syracuse defense falters again in loss to Pittsburgh

Pitt

Syracuse couldn’t stop Pitt in the fourth quarter

For the second straight week, the Syracuse permitted a long, clock-killing drive for a field goal to end regulation. Last week, Virginia’s field goal on the final play of regulation forced overtime, where they eventually won. This Saturday, the Orange allowed #25 Pittsburgh to hold the ball for the final 9:20 of the game and kick a field goal on the final play, only this time, the three points provided the winning margin for the Panthers, who pulled out a 23-20 win at the Carrier Dome.

The win was the fourth straight for Pitt (6-1, 4-0 ACC) and the loss was number four in the row for SU (3-4, 1-2). This loss had to be especially annoying for Syracuse, as they trailed for less than five-and-a-half minutes in the game.

Pittsburgh received the opening kickoff of the game and, just over five minutes later, put the first mark on the scoreboard with a 33-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Syracuse struck back quickly, needing only two plays to score. On the first play from scrimmage Jordan Fredericks raced 55 yards to the Pitt 20. Eric Dungey threw to Erv Philips on the next play and the H-back finished the play by racing into the end zone for a touchdown. Cole Murphy tacked on the extra point and SU led 7-3.

After each team punted, the Panthers had the next scoring chance, but a field goal sailed left of the uprights, keeping the Orange in front by four entering the final minute of the second quarter. The Syracuse offense extended the lead on the next possession, getting a 23-yard field goal from Murphy to make it a 10-3 lead just shy of the midpoint of the second quarter.

Two plays keyed the Orange drive. First, they converted a 4th-and-one from the Pitt 35 when Jordan Fredericks ran for two yards on a direct snap. On the next set of downs, a Pitt defender was called for pass interference on 3rd-and-12, moving SU to the visitors’ 20. Syracuse would advance as far as the Panthers’ two-yard-line before being forced to settle for three.

Pitt responded with a long drive of their own, this one hitting paydirt with 1:37 remaining in the opening half. The touchdown and extra point knotted the game at 10-10.

Dungey responded with some sharp passing to move the chains twice on the ensuing SU drive before connecting with Steve Ishmael on a 40-yard reception that gave the Orange first-and-goal at the ten. The Orange called time out after each of two runs and facing third down at the Panthers’ four with 32 seconds left in the half. On the next play, Dungey and Ishmael connected again, this time on a quick slant for the touchdown with 26 seconds on the clock. Murphy’s conversion made it 17-10 in favor of Syracuse.

The Orange tried a short kickoff, but a solid return and a personal foul against SU gave the Panthers a short field. After a scramble and a completion, Pitt got a 30-yard field goal to close the half and slice the SU lead to 17-13.

The second half opened as a defensive struggle with both teams punting after each of their first two possessions.

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SU’s third and fourth possessions of the second half ended in interceptions. The first pick came on a ball that popped into the air off the hands of a receiver and the second on a long, floating pass where intended receiver Erv Philips never looked back for the ball. A Pitt defender came up with the interception and returned it to the Orange 44. Seven plays later, Pitt reached the end zone and took a 20-17 lead one minute into the fourth quarter.

The Orange offense was not shaken, responding with a scoring drive of ten plays. Dungey had the biggest play with a 26-yard run that put Syracuse into field goal range. SU could not get another first down, but Murphy connected on a 37-yard field goal to make it a 20-20 game with 9:20 left on the clock.

Things started great on the ensuing drive for the Orange as they snuffed out the Pitt returner at the ten and a penalty backed the Panthers to their own five. Two first downs had Pitt at their own 45. A false start backed them up on their next set of downs, leading to a 4th-and-seven. The Panthers opted to fake it, getting a 12-yard pass and a first down.

Pitt ground out the clock from there, running the ball on nine straight plays and forcing the Orange to use their two remaining time outs. It was all for naught for Syracuse, as Pitt lined up for a 25-yard field goal with three seconds left. The chip shot kick was good, sending the Pitt bench racing onto the Carrier Dome turf to celebrate.

Eric Dungey turned in another efficient effort to lead Syracuse, connecting on 21-of-30 passes for 210 yards with a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Steve Ishmael established a pair of career highs with seven receptions for 114 yards to go with a touchdown grab. Jordan Fredericks paced the SU ground game with 91 yards on a dozen carries.

Zaire Franklin was a monster for the Orange defense, racking up 11 tackles, including three for loss, two of which were sacks, and a forced fumble. Donnie Simmons also had a sack and Daivon Ellison was also credited with a forced fumble in the game.

Syracuse now stares down the toughest part of their schedule, as they travel to Tallahassee to face #9 Florida State. The Seminoles (6-1, 4-1) are coming off their first loss of the season, a 22-16 loss at Georgia Tech where the Yellow Jackets returned a blocked field goal for the winning touchdown on the final play of the game.

The Orange will mix it up with FSU at noon next Saturday and ABC will televise the game, which will also be available online at ESPN3.com.

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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.
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