A quick take on Syracuse’s tough-to-swallow 21-10 defeat against No. 25 Pittsburgh, on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon in front of few spectators at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh:
WHAT HAPPENED: Syracuse (0-2) dropped its first two games of a season for the first time since 2013, and for the second straight week of the early 2020 campaign had its chances to stay close with an ACC opponent, only to see the game get away in the second half. Starting quarterback Tommy Devito hobbled off after being sacked with 11:30 left in the second quarter. Backup Rex Culpepper came in and promptly threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Taj Harris for the first Orange touchdown (and first lead) of the season. Devito returned to open the second half, but was promptly sacked (5th of the game at the time) on a 4th and three in Pitt territory. The Panthers later in the quarter picked off Devito, and that possession lead to an eight-play scoring drive and the eventual 11-point margin of victory. Pittsburgh (2-0) has now won seven of the eight games between the teams in ACC play.
ANALYSIS: Frustratingly close describes the Orange offense for the second straight week. On the second drive of the second half, Devito, on a third down play, just underthrew Harris on a potential touchdown pass that would have cut the Pitt lead to four points. One play later Devito was sacked to end the drive near midfield. A beaten up Devito eventually left the game again in the fourth quarter. The ‘Cuse defensive effort was impressive and steady, recording an interception and fumble recovery, although holes in the pass coverage were exposed on Pitt’s two touchdown passes of 27 and 25 yards, respectively. Dino Babers may end up having to re-think his quarterback strategy moving forward with Devito constantly scrambling against ACC defenses.
HERO: Pittsburgh senior quarterback Kenny Pickett hit key passes to keep Panthers drives intact, and ultimately burned the Orange with the two touchdown passes and another on the ground to keep SU at bay. Pickett finished with workmanlike numbers; 25-of-36 for 215 yards in the air, and accounted for all three Pitt scores including the short one-yard quarterback-keeper run.
ZERO: The Syracuse offense continued to have trouble staying on the field sustaining drives with poor third down efficiency. SU finished only 2-of-14 on third down conversions, and that resulted in Pitt having an 80-58 advantage in total plays against another respectable SU defensive effort. The Orange, for the second straight game, gave up seven sacks, a drive killer throughout the afternoon.
WHAT’S NEXT: The long-awaited debut of the renovated Dome, with Syracuse playing its 2020 home opener against Georgia Tech next Saturday, September 26. A new fixed roof in place high above will support and showcase a massive four-sided scoreboard/video board, along with a better sound system, improvements to the private boxes, rest rooms and concession stands. However, with no fans allowed to attend there will only be game personnel, support staff, and the media on hand. SU is 0-3 all-time against Georgia Tech, with the only ACC meeting coming in 2013, a 56-0 Yellow Jackets romp in Atlanta. Georgia Tech (1-1) lost to 14th ranked Central Florida 49-21 on Saturday. Game Time: 12:00 p.m. ET. TV: ACC Regional Sports Networks.