Discouraged, not disappointed, not defeated, and not panicking.
Those were the words that third year head coach Scott Shafer and sophomore linebacker and team captain Zaire Franklin used after Syracuse fell to #25 Pittsburgh 23-20 in front of a Homecoming crowd of 29,832 at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The loss was the Orange’s fourth straight and it looked quite familiar to its loss to Virginia the previous week.
It was a 19-play drive in the Virginia game that did the Orange in, and another 19-play drive in the Pittsburgh game that ultimately handed SU their fate. In the Syracuse-Virginia game last week, the Cavaliers rallied for 10 points in the final minutes of the game to tie it and send it into three overtimes. Against Pittsburgh, the SU defense was once again tasked to stop the Panthers on a critical fourth quarter series. And with a bit of help from the special teams unit, they didn’t get the job done.
The Panther’s 19-play drive, which featured a Pitt fake punt, straight out of the Shafer playbook and ate up 9:20 off the clock, culminated with a field goal with no time left on the clock. The ending was a little different from last week, but the result is the same: another SU loss.
“Obviously, very disappointed to come up short again two weeks in a row,” Shafer shared. “Football is a game of inches. It’s one play here, one play there that can make the difference in the outcome of a ball game and we saw that.
“Disappointed, not discouraged,” he added. “I loved the way the kids played. At the end of the day we came up short and it’s disappointing, but we will get back to work. I like the way our kids are playing. I like the way they’re competing. The good part of it is that most of these kids are going to be back for a quite a while, so been pleased with that, just disappointed to come up short.”
Franklin, who had a game-high 11 tackles, including two for a loss, two sacks and one forced fumble, said players in the lockerroom were crying.
“I think we’re disappointed that the games keep ending this way,” Franklin said. “But we’re not defeated and we’re not panicking.
“It really is just tough, the last four weeks. Being in the position to win a game, but not being able to find that play. I feel like we’re close. The game is always there. The game is always in reach. We just have to learn to win these types of games.”
Against Pittsburgh, the Orange did not commit a self-destructive penalty (LSU and South Florida) down the stretch. But the missed tackles and inability to shed blocks that have plagued the SU defense during this four-game losing streak appeared in Saturday’s loss.
Pittsburgh converted four third downs and one fourth down (on a fake punt), taking the remaining 9:20 off the clock, which culminated with the game-winning 25-yard field goal.
“We have got to play better, especially in a crunch time situation like that,” Franklin said. “But to give credit to Pitt, they made a lot of adjustments to the things that we were doing. We were slowing them down in their running game in the first half and through the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, they made the adjustments and that was the deciding factor.
“We just have to be able to find that play when we need it the most,” he added. “We just have to keep pushing, in practice, in the way we train and prepare. Just being able to get that one play that decides between winner and loser.”