The families began to file out with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. What started as a trickle of fans leaving the Dome turned into a tsunami, as Syracuse’s quest for its first bowl game in three years came to a sad conclusion. The Orange fell to Pitt 31-14 Saturday night, cementing Dino Babers’s revamped 2021 team as a disappointment in what the head coach called a “year of change.”
After a resounding seven-minute first drive en route to a Garrett Shrader-Courtney Jackson 12-yard touchdown, the Orange offense fell flat. SU only managed 25 rushing yards against Pitt’s front — the best rushing defense in the ACC.
Shrader and Sean Tucker carried the ball 29 times. It was clear Pat Narduzzi told his Pitt defense to key in on the legs of the Mississippi State transfer, as Shrader had nowhere to go on his trademark third-down scrambles.
Syracuse went 25 minutes through the second and part of the third quarter without a first down. By the time the SU offense began connecting through the air, it was much too little, much too late.
Conversely, Pitt signal-caller and NFL draft prospect Kenny Pickett didn’t show off amazing arm talent or athleticism against SU. Instead, he systematically picked apart a worn-out Orange defense, throwing pass after pass to the flats and letting his athletes, mainly Biletnikoff award finalist Jordan Addison, do the rest. Pickett threw for 209 yards; Addison collected 11 receptions for 81 yards and housed two of Pickett’s four passing touchdowns.
Freshman corner (and eternal bright spot) Duce Chestnut was able to snag a pick in the end zone early in the fourth quarter, giving SU fans a sliver of hope despite the two-touchdown deficit. However, the freshman ran the ball out instead of kneeling for a touchback, and pinned the offense in the shadow of its own end zone. Another three-and-out ensued, causing fans to head for the exits.
A sour aspect throughout the game was the penalties. Syracuse was penalized nine times for 66 yards, including three unsportsmanlike conducts for pushing and shoving after the whistle. Babers’s team has struggled with discipline throughout the year (the fifth-most penalized team in the ACC), and to have these issues on Senior Day made it sting just a little bit more.
The Orange will have to view this season from a macro perspective. Nobody expected this team to win more than three games; the change to a ground-and-pound style offense revitalized the team and fanbase. However, there were plenty of chances for Syracuse to get over the hump and reach a bowl game. Some of those failures fall on the lack of talent, some fall on the unfamiliarity of the big moment. At the end of the day, many of them fell on Dino Babers’ shoulders.