New week yields similar results for Syracuse football

Babers Pitt
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers speaks with the media following the Orange's 21-10 loss at Pittsburgh.

For the second straight game, Syracuse’s defense gave them a chance to win, but their offense could not hold up their end of the bargain and the Orange fell at #25 Pittsburgh, 21-10. The Panthers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) missed a pair of field goals, botched another attempt on a bad hold, fumbled three times, and threw an interception, but SU (0-2, 0-2) simply could not make anything happen on offense, particularly in the second half.

Syracuse ran 31 plays in the second half, totaling a mere 52 yards. The fourth quarter was particularly gruesome, as they gained one yard on 13 plays. In total, the Orange mustered 171 yards in the game, averaging only 2.95 yards per play. Once again, the offensive line was a major culprit, giving up seven sacks in the game.

Their defensive mates played admirably, giving Pitt 342 yards on 80 plays, just 4.28 yards per snap. That mark, over the course of the full 2019 season, would have placed SU second in the nation.

Those offensive troubles showed on the second Syracuse possession. After getting great field position at the Panther 35 after a good punt return from Nykeim Johnson, the Orange offense lost four yards before punting.

The SU defense stepped up on the next Panther possession and Mikel Jones pounced on a backwards pass for a fumble recovery at the Pitt 14. Syracuse got halfway to the end zone on the first play, then bogged down and settled for a 26-yard field goal from Andre Szmyt and a 3-0 lead with just over six minutes left in the first quarter.

The Panthers struck back in under two minutes, marching 75 yards to the end zone, including 57 coming through the air on three completions on the last four snaps. The score was a 27-yard strike and the extra point gave the hosts a 7-3 lead.

Pittsburgh had the next scoring opportunity, but missed a 37-yard field goal a couple minutes into the second quarter. Three plays into SU’s drive, Tommy DeVito was sacked and had to leave the game. Rex Culpepper replaced him and the Orange got instant results, completing a pair of passes, the latter of which saw Taj Harris reel in a deep throw on the right sideline, slip a couple of tackles, and score on a 69-yard touchdown. Szmyt added the conversion for a 10-7 lead less than five minutes into the second.

The Panthers answered with another touchdown drive to go up, 14-10, then forced a quick three-and-out from SU. Pitt got into position for a 46-yard field goal on the final play of the half, but the holder muffed the snap and foot never met ball, leaving the margin at four points at the break.

On their first possession of the third quarter, Syracuse crossed midfield and faced a fourth-and-three at Pitt’s 44, but DeVito was sacked almost immediately for a loss of possession. Jones thwarted the ensuing Panther drive, coming up with his second takeaway of the game with an interception that he returned to the Orange 30.

SU strung together three first downs, but DeVito threw an errant screen pass and Pittsburgh picked it off. The Panthers converted their turnover, driving for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead with under a minute left in the third.

Syracuse’s next possession also ended in a turnover. On third-and-11 from the Orange 19, Jawhar Jordan lost the ball and Pitt recovered deep in SU territory. The Syracuse defense stood tall once more, and again the hosts missed a field goal, this time sending a 45-yard try from the right hash well wide of the left upright.

The next Orange drive was extended by a roughing the punter penalty on Pittsburgh, but that was the lone first down they could generate in the final quarter, never threatening the Panthers’ lead.

» Related: Who is to blame for Syracuse’s offensive struggles?

Taj Harris led all players with 72 receiving yards on three receptions. In addition to his fumble recovery and interception, Mikel Jones also had a pair of quarterback hits for SU. Josh Black, Tyrell Richards, and Stefon Thompson each had a sack. Geoff Cantin-Arku had a pair of tackles for loss while freshman defensive back Ja’Had Carter led the team with nine stops.

The Orange will have their home opener next Saturday when they host Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets (1-1, 1-0) opened their season with a win at Florida State, but were routed on Saturday by #14 Central Florida, 49-21.

Freshman quarterback Jeff Sims is a double threat for Tech, having thrown for 521 yards and run for team-high 146 more in their two contests. Sims has been erratic with his arm, throwing four interceptions against two touchdowns.

Kickoff will be at 12:00pm Eastern and the game will be televised by regional sports networks.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 637 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.