The 14 points the Syracuse football team scored certainly helped the Orange win. So did the mere 13 points it allowed. But neither of those numbers can really account for the main culprit in SU’s 14-13 win over Pittsburgh on Friday.
Rather, toughness provided the ‘W.’ And it was evident all night. It was visible when SU smothered Pitt’s Ray Graham seemingly every other time he touched the football. Or when SU quarterback Ryan Nassib ran with the ball with no intention of ending his run in a dainty slide.
The theme of physicality was one that defensive end Brandon Sharpe said coach Doug Marrone harped on throughout the team’s bye week.
“During all week, all bye week, he just wanted us to be physical and tough and play our game,” Sharpe said after the win. “And that’s what we had to do today.”
Sharpe did his part. He had a career high four sacks and Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri was constantly on edge.
This game was not pretty, as is often the case in football. Save for SU’s first drive of the game, there was no offensive explosion. The Orange could have lost this game. But it was relentless all night on both sides against the Panthers, and its mistakes did not end up hurting the team because of its physical play.
“Those guys were playing hard,” Marrone said after the game. “I wish that everyone could have been on that field to get a better feel of how hard those kids were going after it. Both teams. Credit to both teams. I have a great appreciation when you go out and play this game the way these two teams went out there and played.”
The win overshadows, at least for a moment, the interception Nassib threw in the red zone in the second quarter. It overshadows the penalties, along with SU’s inability to score after the first quarter.
But a win is a win, and beating Pitt for the first time since 2004 was special for the Orange, no matter how the game played out.
“Pitt’s handled me ever since I got here,” Nassib said after the game. “So I’m ecstatic that we actually came out and took it to them.”
SU took it to the Panthers from the get-go. After a Pitt three-and-out, the Orange put on an offensive clinic in its opening drive. First, Jerome Smith had two carries, each for seven yards. Then Nassib hit wide receiver Marcus Sales for a 14-yard gain. Two passes followed to Alec Lemon. Then Prince-Tyson Gulley had a carry and a catch. Finally, Adonis Ameen-Moore punched the ball into the end zone. It was his first carry of the season, and he said his first touchdown since the 12th grade.
Eight plays. Seventy yards. Just about three minutes.
That opening offensive sequence was really the only pretty scene from this game. Linebacker Dyshawn Davis also recovered a Pitt fumble in the first quarter and ran it in for a touchdown to make it 14-0. Pitt nearly chipped away at the 14-point deficit SU had built, but time ran out on the Panthers.
SU’s grittiness came through. And not just when Shamarko Thomas’ helmet came flying off of his head in the fourth quarter.
“I knew it was gonna be a hard game,” Marrone said. “When you play the University of Pittsburgh, at least from my standpoint, you better be ready to play. And I thought our kids did a nice job. And their kids did a hell of a job. We just made a couple of more plays and we came out on the better end of the stick.”