PITTSBURGH — All season, Pitt’s offense has impressed while the defense has left a lot to be desired, especially the pass defense.
That trend came to an illogical, absurd conclusion with Pitt’s 76-61 win over Syracuse on Saturday.
The teams combined for an FBS-record 137 points — the over/under was 66.5 — and this was a game that will re-write several pages of record books.
Pitt’s 76 points scored was the most for the team since 1977. Pitt had two rushers go over 100 yards, Nate Peterman threw for 251 yards on nine completions for four touchdowns, James Conner scored three touchdowns and yet, the game was relatively close.
Because as impressive as Pitt’s offense was, the defense was just as bad. Syracuse receiver Amba Etta-Tawo caught 13 passes for 178 yards and five touchdowns. Backup quarterback Zach Mahoney threw for 440 yards and rushed for 49 more and two touchdowns.
“I tell our kids every week there’s going to be ups and downs,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said after the game. “I didn’t plan on there being that many downs. I’ve never been in a game like that. I don’t ever want to be in a game like that again. … Half of me is jumping for joy with what our offense did our there today and the other half makes me sick. We didn’t make enough plays on defense today.”
NO TIME TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS
The biggest issue for Pitt’s defense might have been Pitt’s offense. With the Panthers scoring as quickly as they were, there was very little time for the Pitt defensive staff to make adjustments or the players to get a rest.
Pitt scored touchdown drives of eight seconds, 11 seconds, 24 seconds, 1:13, 1:26, 1:40 and 1:43. They also had and eight-second drive on Nate Peterman’s first-half interception and that doesn’t count the back-to-back possessions surrounding Dane Jackson’s pick six.
All of that conspired to keep the Pitt defense on the field — a lot. Syracuse out-possessed Pitt, 35:42 to 24:18. Making matters worse, Syracuse’s up-tempo offense had Pitt scrambling to make substitutions to replace worn out players.
“I’m not going to complain about the offense scoring in 11 seconds, but the tempo got to us at one point in the game,” said senior defensive end Ejuan Price.
“I’ll never complain about scoring points, but you don’t win the time of possession, it puts your defense in a jam,” Narduzzi added. “We scored really fast. Three TDs were one-play TDs. We never sustained these huge drives that eat up clock. … We practiced the tempo all week but you can never get it like it is [in the game].”
In a game where neither defense was able to come up with a play for large stretches of time, one stands out — Jackson’s interception return for a touchdown.
The play in the second quarter gave the Panthers a three-score lead and changed the whole dynamic of the way the second half played out. Syracuse had to go to onside kicks more quickly, giving Pitt easy opportunities to add on offensively.
“It is when you look at the points at the end, I think it was a big play,” Narduzzi said. “We have to make some more [of those].”
Junior wide receiver Jester Weah has top-flight speed. That’s never been in question. He was an all-state track star in the 100 meters in Wisconsin and the team’s other receivers — guys that are pretty passionate about how fast they are — tend to think that Weah is the fastest man on the team.
That’s a bold statement for a team featuring burners like Quadree Henderson and Maurice Ffrench. Weah has shown flashes of his top-flight ability at times this year, but it’s usually been by running deep routes or using his big frame to outmuscle a defender for a ball.
In the first quarter, though, he grabbed a perfectly placed slant from Peterman and just outran everyone. It was something special to see for Weah, who probably didn’t develop as quickly as he would have liked in his first three years at Pitt, but really turned it on this year.
“It was awesome,” Weah said. “I was just thinking in my head I had to run as fast as I can. … I don’t want to feel cocky or anything, but I feel like when I have the ball in my hands, nobody can touch me if I run as fast as I can.”
“It was awesome to see him show that to everybody else,” Peterman said. “Everybody finally saw his speed today, not that they don’t on film when he’s running go routes, but you really saw it with the ball in his hands to go out and make a play.”
It took a perfectly thrown ball to catch Weah in stride. He and Peterman have been working on routes like that since way back in the winter and for them to finally start to pay off is big, even if Peterman will only be his quarterback for one more game.
“I think he worked the hardest our of anybody on our whole team this offseason,” Peterman said. “I tell him that all the time — just how happy I am for him and how much his work has really paid off.”
Despite the ridiculous point total and offensive outcomes — the teams combined for 20 touchdowns and over 1,300 yards of offense, Peterman and James Conner both said they thought the offense could have been even better.
“I still think we can be better,” Peterman said. “I left some incompletions out there where I could have kept us on the field. You’re never perfect.”
“I’m happy we won but we got to keep it going,” Conner said. “We got to get better. Offense has to get better. Defense has to get better. Everyone has to get better.”
INJURIES AND NOTES
Cornerback Avonte Maddox was severely limited with an ankle injury suffered during the week. He played just a handful of snaps. Jackson and Ryan Lewis played the majority of the snaps at corner, with Malik Henderson spelling the two.
Devon Edwards continues to get reps on the defensive line. He played a few snaps at defensive end this week.
Senior Bam Bradley played the most he’s played in quite some time, mostly at the expense of Saleem Brightwell. Jalen Williams also got some work in with the linebackers.