It certainly wasn’t pretty, but SU football escaped the dome with a 27-24 win Saturday over Pittsburgh to improve to 3-3 on the season.
After an opening drive field goal, SU’s offense hit the brakes and proved yet again that it’s not a first half unit Saturday. In a complete paradox to last year’s shootout, Syracuse and Pittsburgh traded three and outs for a majority of the first half. For the Orange, it was the offensive line and running game that continued to plague them. However, SU finally established some running game in the second frame and rode a 17-point second half to it’s first ACC win of the season.
‘It was good to finally get that monkey off our back,” head coach Dino Babers said about finally winning a close game after being on the losing end of three so far this season.
So let’s break this all down. Let’s start with the glass half full look and tackle the positives first.
Dontae Strickland Did Something:
After another sluggish first half, Strickland finally found his groove and changed the complexion of the SU offense in the second half. The junior rushed for a season-high 80 yards on 25 carries.
“When there wasn’t a lot there, he [Strickland] still found a way to give us something,” Babers said.
Strickland certainly gave Babers and company something on the last drive. He wore down the Pittsburgh defense with one three to four yard run after another. The New Jersey native also extended the final drive with a crucial fourth down conversion Syracuse absolutely needed it. There is still plenty of room for improvement but seeing the Orange be able to milk away the clock late in the game while relying on its ground game was very encouraging.
Cole Murphy Was Actually Kinda Good:
Now again, the standard of good here is very, very low. Like not shanking anything out of bounds and making routine field goals low. But, all joking aside, Murphy stepped up on Saturday. He drilled a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter that could’ve potentially been a huge momentum-swinging miss. Murphy was facing a lot of heat in this one. The senior’s job was on the line and he rose to the occasion.
Ravian Pierce Can Ball:
Let me start out by saying that Pierce could have easily been the reason Syracuse lost this game by dropping a simple shovel pass on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. However, setting that costly drop aside, Pierce was terrific against Pittsburgh. He finally had the type of performance we have all been waiting for. The four-star transfer seemed like he was being underutilized the first five weeks. But after just catching 10 passes in the opening five games, Pierce hauled in a team-high nine receptions for 99 yards and was a big reason SU pulled ahead in the second half.
Now to the elephant in the room.
SU’s offense is still not good:
I can’t believe we are six weeks into the season and can honestly say the Orange defense has been much better than its offense. Eric Dungey is playing well but the offensive line is just getting exposed each week. They can’t create running lanes and can’t give SU enough time to develop big plays down the field. Somehow, the Zack Mahoney led team that scored 61 against Pitt last year was a much better offense than the one Syracuse is fielding right now. The speed is noticeably slower and it feels like we’re seeing the same plays cycled over and over each week. With Clemson coming into the dome next week, Babers and company need to get things figured out or else it could be an ugly loss on Friday night.
- Pittsburgh kicker Alex Kessman set a Carrier Dome record with a cross-bar-bouncing 56-yarder in the third quarter. I can confidently say he is better than Bucs kicker Nick Folk.
- SU’s third down defense was stellar again on Saturday. Pittsburgh failed on its first 10 conversions and went 3 for 13 in the game. SU has now stopped opponents on third down roughly 77% of the time this season.
- Pittsburgh Quarterback Max Browne left the game early in the third quarter. He was seen on the sideline wearing a sling during the fourth.
- Sophomore running back Moe Neal didn’t touch the ball once on Saturday. However, junior Tyrone Perkins saw some time and got one carry in the win.
- SU wideout Devin C. Butler caught his first touchdown at the end of the first half and had a career high 7 catches for 64 yards after having only two catches in the previous five games of the season.
- The nation’s leader in receptions, Steve Ishmael, tallied five catches for 97 yards and a touchdown, which marks the first time he has failed to eclipse the century-mark this season.
Syracuse returns to the Carrier Dome next Friday night to take on the defending champion Clemson Tigers. Buckle up Orange fans because this one could get ugly if the offense doesn’t drastically improve.