Syracuse was spearheaded by a strong defensive effort including a fumble recovery turned 52-yard touchdown by sophomore Dyshawn Davis to defeat Pittsburgh 14-13 in its Big East opener. The win snapped an 8-game losing streak against FBS opponents and marked the first victory verse Pitt since 2004.
Brandon Sharpe notched a career-best foursacks in the defensive battle that saw only three points scored in the entire second half.
“We knew this game was on the defense,” Davis said.
After opening the game with fourteen points in the first quarter, the most in an opening period this season, Syracuse (2-3, 1-0) appeared to be headed towards a high-scoring affair. But the Orange offense never clicked and did not find the endzone after the opening drive. Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib finished with just 185 yards through the air in a more balanced attack that featured 129 yards on the ground as well.
It was the defense that stepped up to compensate for the pedestrian and dry offense. The Orange limited the Panthers attack to just 37 yards rushing for an abysmal 0.7 yards per carry.
“It finally felt like we were clicking,” Deon Goggins, senior defensive tackle, said.
On Pitt’s final drive with just 5 minutes remaining in the game, the Panthers marched down into the Syracuse red zone. A field goal would have been enough to take the lead, but back-to-back sacks by Sharpe and Brandon Reddish forced Pitt back from the 17-yard line to the 41 and out of field goal range.
The Orange was coming off a bye week and made some adjustments that played a pivotal role in the game, SU head coach Doug Marrone said.They cut down on penalties, and Marrone instituted a new goal-line package to help the Orange in the red zone. Lewellyn Coker, a reserve linebacker entered the game as the fullback and tailback Adonis Ameen-Moore, scurried into the endzone in his first carry of the season.
Senior wideout Marcus Sales caught 6 passes for 63 yards to lead SU in the air. He tallied his 100th career catch and now has nine consecutive games with a catch. Junior running back Jerome Smith added 61 yards on just 10 carries to bolster the Orange offensive output, but this one was all about the defensive effort that allowed Syracuse to win despite going scoreless in the final three quarters.
With the win, Marrone improves to 4-1 after bye weeks. He deferred the attention though to his staff and the players. The coaches made necessary changes throughout the bye week and athletes played with a lot of physicality, he said. Though he added, “I’ve got to do a better job.”
Next week, Syracuse will head to Rutgers to face the Scarlet Knights and will look to continue its success in the Big East. “It’s grind time,” senior tackle Justin Pugh said after his long-awaited return to the gridiron.