While the strong Syracuse offense garnered most of the words in the media for their early season performance, it was their defensive counterparts who provided the action on Friday night, propelling the team to a 14-13 win over Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome, snapping an seven-game losing skid in the series between the two schools. The defense of the Orange (2-3, 0-1 Big East) had been questioned over the first third of their schedule for their inability to stop their opponents, but hardly even allowed the question to be asked against the Panthers (2-3, 0-2), who they held to 27 yards rushing on 37 attempts in the contest.
Even when removing quarterback sacks from the equation, Pitt could only scratch out 60 yards on 32 rushes. Defensive end Brandon Sharpe was the ringleader for the SU defense, collecting six tackles for loss, including four sacks, and forced a crucial intentional grounding penalty that helped wipe out Pitt’s last scoring threat.
The defense was the first unit to get on the field for the Orange and they set the tone for the night, forcing a quick three-and-out. The Syracuse offense started off as strong as their teammates, marching 70 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. The drive was capped when Adonis Ameen-Moore converted his first carry of the season into six points, as the sophomore tailback was part of a new offensive package for short yardage plays that paid off instantly as he crashed into the end zone from a yard out. Ross Krautman added the extra point and SU held a 7-0 with just over five minutes off the clock.
Pitt missed a field goal on their next possession and their third drive had an even worse ending. SU safety Jeremi Wilkes rocked a Panther receiver, jarring the ball loose. Dyshawn Davis scooped up the ball and took off for the end zone, scoring on a 52-yard return with just over a minute left in the first quarter. Krautman tacked on the conversion and the Orange held a 14-0 lead. The Panthers responded, driving for a touchdown to halve the Syracuse lead early in the second quarter. Syracuse strung together a strong drive on the next possession, reaching the Pitt nine-yard-line, but Ryan Nassib’s fade pass to Marcus Sales was poorly thrown and subsequently intercepted. The Panthers continued to come back, getting a field goal two possessions later to get within 14-10 just before intermission.
The Orange could not sustain anything on offense on their first two possessions of the third quarter and the Panthers made them pay, getting another field goal to shave the SU lead down to 14-13 with just under two minutes left in the third quarter. Syracuse could not score on their subsequent possession and Pitt drove to the Orange 34. The SU defense stiffened, though, adding a sack to a pair of Panther penalties to force a punt. Syracuse again punted to the visitors, who began to eat up chunks of yards as they moved to the Orange 17. Defensive end Brandon Sharpe, who had already amassed his four sacks, almost got a fifth, but the Pitt quarterback threw the ball away, earning an intentional grounding penalty.
On the next play, cornerback Brandon Reddish raced into the backfield untouched for a sack. One incompletion later, the Panthers punted back to the Orange, who took over at their own 20 with 4:52 on the clock. While it had difficulty for most of the night, the SU offense turned into a machine, grinding out yards and grinding down the clock. Four first downs and 47 yards later, Syracuse watched the last seconds trickle off the clock and they celebrated a victory.
The Syracuse offense posted mostly mediocre numbers compared to what they had done earlier in the season. Ryan Nassib connected on 19-of-30 passes for 185 yards and an interception. Marcus Sales was the top receiver for the Orange, collecting a half dozen receptions good for 63 yards. Jerome Smith turned his ten carries into a team-leading 61 yards.
Brandon Sharpe’s career effort of four sacks and six tackles for loss keyed the Orange defense, who amassed ten tackles for loss as a team. Shamarko Thomas collected a team-high nine stops, including one for loss, prior to leaving the game with an injury. Jeremi Wilkes’ forced fumble was the only turnover collected by the SU defense.
- Marcus Sales became the tenth player in Syracuse history to catch 100 passes in his career. He and Alec Lemon are the first pair of Orange teammates to achieve the feat.
- Brandon Sharpe’s six tackles for loss and four sacks each stand second in the school record books.
- SU hits the road next week when they travel to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights (5-0, 2-0) knocked off Connecticut on Saturday, 19-3. Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be available on SNY.