While the Syracuse offense is supposed to be a dynamic up-tempo force, it was a meat grinder on Saturday, scoring on four consecutive long drives to flip a seven-point deficit into an 11-point lead that proved to be enough to hold off Pittsburgh for a 27-24 homecoming win.
The Orange defense, in the meantime, exacted a measure of revenge against the team that hung 76 points on them last season, holding the Panthers to a pair of long field goals while the SU offense was stacking up points to help flip the script and even SU’s record at 3-3 overall and 1-1 in ACC play. Pitt slid to 2-4 overall and 0-2 in conference action.
Each of the four scoring drives for the Orange lasted at least nine plays and gained a minimum of 52 yards. Meanwhile, Pitt’s four corresponding drives gained a total of 94 yards.
All in all, the game was a well-rounded effort by Syracuse, who got a season-high 80 rushing yards from Dontae Strickland to go with four different receivers snaring at least five passes and gaining over 55 yards. The Orange defense permitted Pitt to convert only 3-of-13 third down chances, none of them coming in the first three quarters.
SU looked to be aggressive from the jump. On the second play from scrimmage, Eric Dungey went downfield for Steve Ishmael, connecting for 34 yards down the right sideline into Pitt territory. On the next set of downs, giant running back Chris Elmore barreled through the Panther defense to convert a fourth-and-one, eventually setting up a 26-yard field goal from Cole Murphy for a 3-0 lead with 3:30 off the clock.
The defenses took hold after that, combining for six straight three-and-out possessions before Pittsburgh finally broke through. The Panthers moved 54 yards for a score, getting a 35-yard scamper for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. The extra point gave the guests a 7-3 lead.
Two possessions later, Pitt tacked on more points, getting a 49-yard field goal to make it a 10-3 game at the midpoint of the second period.
The Orange looked to strike back on the next drive, but fell short when a fourth-and-nine pass to Erv Philips from the Panther 39 only picked up eight yards. The Panthers would get into SU territory, but were forced to punt and pinned Syracuse at their own seven-yard-line with under three minutes left in the half.
That proved to be more than enough time, as the Orange needed just over two minutes to get off nine plays and drive the length of the field for a score. Right after a holding call backed SU up ten yards to the fringe of field goal range, Dungey completed a deep ball down the left sideline to Devin C. Butler for a 32-yard touchdown pass. Murphy trotted on for the extra point and tied the score at ten a side shortly before the half.
The Panthers opened the third quarter with a field goal to go back in front, but Syracuse responded with another long drive.
Pitt gifted the Orange 15 yards and a first down with a roughing the passer flag on a third down. A handful of plays later, Dungey cashed in the drive, going untouched for a touchdown from ten yards out behind a crushing Elmore block. Murphy’s conversion gave SU a 17-13 lead with just under seven minutes left in the third.
The defensive line dominated the next Panther possession, as McKinley Williams stuffed a run on first down and Alton Robinson forced a fumble on a sack on second, knocking Pitt quarterback Max Browne from the game with an injury.
Pittsburgh’s punt was converted into more Orange points when Murphy banged home a 38-yard field goal to end the next Syracuse possession to stretch the lead to 20-13 late in the third. The Panthers would match that score with Alex Kessman’s 56-yard field goal of their own on the first play of the fourth quarter, cutting the gap right back to four points on the longest field goal in Carrier Dome history.
The SU offense proved to be up to the task once more, marching 75 yards for a touchdown. Dungey extended the drive by leaping over the pile to convert a fourth-and-one, then two plays later, hit Steve Ishmael down the right sideline for a 35-yard touchdown when the senior receiver bulled through a defender into the end zone. Murphy connected on the extra point for Syracuse’s biggest lead of the day at 27-16.
Pitt rose to the challenge, driving the field for their own touchdown, cutting the SU lead to 27-23 with just over seven minutes to play.
Then, surprisingly, the Orange ground attack took over. SU strung together a 15-play drive, including a dozen runs, to eat up most of the remaining 7:15 on the clock. The ground game converted a pair of third downs and a fourth down on the drive, the latter coming when Dungey flipped the ball to Dontae Strickland on a quick-snap option.
On the next set of downs, Dungey scrambled for 20 yards on a third-and-five to get to the Pitt 14. Facing a fourth-and-one from the Panther five, SU went for it with a surprise play call. Dungey flipped the ball to tight end Ravian Pierce on a shovel pass, but he could not handle the high toss, giving the ball to Pittsburgh with 52 seconds on the clock and no time outs left.
After Pitt converted a third down, linebacker Ryan Guthrie broke through for a sack, all but ending the game. The Panthers got off one more snap, completing a pass for 13 yards, but time elapsed, giving the win to SU.
Eric Dungey finished 33-of-49 for 365 yards and a pair of scores through the air, but was nearly perfect in the second half, hitting on 15-of-17 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown after the break. Dungey also had his 19th career score on the ground, tying Bill Hurley and Donovan McNabb for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in SU history.
Ravian Pierce, who entered the game with ten catches for 39 yards on the season, led the Orange with nine receptions for 99 yards. Dontae Strickland had 80 yards on 25 carries.
Parris Bennett paced the Syracuse defense for the third straight game, racking up a season-high 14 tackles. Alton Robinson had a sack and a forced fumble while Ryan Guthrie had a sack of his own. Scoop Bradshaw and Jordan Martin were both credited with a pair of pass breakups.
The Orange will finish their two-game homestand on Friday night when #2 Clemson visits the Carrier Dome. The defending national champion Tigers (6-0, 4-0) jumped out to a 28-0 lead over Wake Forest on Saturday as they cruised to a 28-14 win. Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant left the game in the third quarter after spraining his ankle.
ESPN will televise the game, which is set for a 7:00pm Eastern kickoff. The game can also be streamed online through ESPN3.