Just short, and oh-so-close.
That phrase summed up almost every play on the Orange and Blue side, as Syracuse dropped to Pittsburgh 17 ‚Äì 16 in the Carrier Dome¬†Saturday. The Orange failed to become bowl eligible this week. There were plenty of missed opportunities to come out on top in this one for SU, but Pitt took advantage and found a way to punch its ticket to a sixth straight bowl appearance.
Both squads entered the weekend at 5‚Äì5 and knew what was at stake. One play that stuck out was Panthers‚Äô head coach Paul Chryst calling a timeout just before Syracuse almost pulled off a fake field goal for a shot at the end zone.¬† There were other controversial storylines. Meanwhile, the Orange now turns to¬†next Saturday¬†to try and extend its season. A win against Boston College, there‚Äôs hope to keep playing, but a loss to the Eagles officially sends Syracuse packing. We use the Fizz Five to make sense of Syracuse‚Äôs heartbreaking loss.
George McDonald‚Äôs Play Calling a Bit Dicey
As a first-year offensive coordinator, McDonald arrived at Syracuse intending to widen the offensive playbook and force opposing defenses to stay on their toes for the entire 60 minutes. That sounded fine and dandy to Syracuse, but timing is everything. The Mailman didn‚Äôt call the best shots against Pittsburgh. As the second¬†quarter expired, Syracuse got the ball back on a Pitt fumble, but decided to run the football repeatedly. Then, the Orange set up a play for Durrell Eskridge as a wide receiver. Terrel Hunt hit no. 3 in the end zone, but Eskridge couldn‚Äôt hold on. Fast forward to the third¬†quarter, Alvin Cornelius caught his first career touchdown, a 42-yard bomb from Hunt. Many SU fans thought a two-point conversion try was on its way, but instead an extra point was booted through. And then of course in the fourth¬†quarter, Syracuse ran the field goal unit out onto the turf with little time to spare, and Chryst barely got a timeout before SU caused a positive raucous in the Dome. Shafer probably had a say in this, too. Mix in some questionable personnel tidbits, such as Ashton Broyld in the Wildcat, it was a head-scratching afternoon watching McDonald‚Äôs game plan unfold. It‚Äôs been a game-by-game mystery all season long.
Pitt DL Aaron Donald Dominated
The All-American Donald recorded his ACC-leading 11th¬†sack in the ball game and disrupted Hunt and company the entire way. He blocked the PAT after Jerome Smith‚Äôs 36-yard touchdown three minutes into the game. That play was arguably the difference in the game. Donald also forced a fumble and had three tackles for a loss in this game for Pittsburgh. The thrashing D-lineman is in line to go in the second¬†round of April‚Äôs NFL Draft. He‚Äôs an explosive playmaker on defense who didn‚Äôt disappoint against the Orange.
Syracuse Defense Reliable Again
Earlier this season, we said¬†the defense had to step up¬†and it has. The Orange D was resilient again in a game when it came off a rough outing.¬†Take a 56 ‚Äì nothing beating to Georgia Tech¬†a few weeks back. Syracuse responded by allowing just three points in its next two games. Then last week Jameis Winston and FSU bulldozed the defense with 59 points, but Syracuse thrived against Pitt¬†Saturday. It stopped the run effectively, as the Panthers accumulated just 21 yards on the ground on 27 attempts. Eskridge and Cameron Lynch led the way for the Orange. Lynch has 11 tackles, three for a loss, as well as a pair of sacks. Combine two forced turnovers with allowing just 3.5 yards per play, and Syracuse‚Äôs defense did more than enough to keep the team in the game. Center Mackey McPherson sounded off about the offense and its poor play:
‚ÄúWe owe basically the season to them. They are playing their butts off. We aren‚Äôt scoring enough points and that‚Äôs evident by the score. We have to get more points on the board for this defense because they play so hard and force turnovers and they stop them. We don‚Äôt do enough for them. Us as an offense has to step our game up.‚Äù
Mackey pretty much nailed it. This offense has to capitalize on either on other team‚Äôs mistakes or the defenses‚Äô forced turnovers.¬†Saturday¬†proved just that.
Four drives in a dreadful fourth¬†frame for the Orange.
Ugly describes all of it: two punts, one missed field goal, one turnover on downs.
The offense failed to get anything going. Neither did Pittsburgh, but you still have to go back to McDonald on this. Was The Mailman playing to not lose or to win? I mean let‚Äôs face it.¬†Hunt threw a touchdown pass for the 1st time in two months. Yes, Syracuse was without three offensive playmakers, Jarrod West, Brisly Estime, and Prince-Tyson Gulley. But as Shafer said early in the week, every team in the nation faces the injury bug. On 4th-and-9 with just over a minute to go, Syracuse almost pulled off the trick fake-field goal. Charlie Loeb to Kendall Moore was a no-go as Chryst got the timeout off. Shafer sounded off about the play after the game:
“I would have done the same thing if I was (Coach Chryst) and I saw that we didn‚Äôt have someone covered. I would have called that timeout as quick as possible. You still have to get set. It came up six inches short. It came up half a second or quarter of a second short. That‚Äôs life, man. We can sit here and sulk about it, but then we‚Äôre being soft and we‚Äôre not going to be soft around here.”
Regardless of the letdown, Syracuse had to turn to its defense multiple times in the final session to come up with a stop. It was evident soft-spoken Jay Bromley was quite upset:
‚ÄúThis is probably one of the worst losses I feel like personally all season because we were so close. Even though we had worse losses, we had it in our hands and we let it slip away. We tried to come with some good defensive stops and then we couldn‚Äôt get the job done. It‚Äôs really frustrating.‚Äù
Here‚Äôs the real question. Does Syracuse get it done next week against the Eagles inside the Dome? Yup,¬†they waited til the end. Boston College has reeled off four straight wins, all in the month of November.¬†Steve Addazio has implemented a ground-and-pound offensive style, schemes similar to what Syracuse fans expected out of McDonald this year. It hasn‚Äôt been a rebuild year for the Eagles, as running back Andre Williams has had a monster season. They are already bowl eligible at 6-4, (4-3). With so many teams in the bowl hunt this year, Syracuse could still be on the hook even with a W this week.
Bottom line, it all comes down to this:¬†it‚Äôs win or go home.