The importance of senior leadership is something that all college coaches speak about. When times are tough, coaches look for seniors to set an example or to steer the ship back on the proper course.
If there was ever an example of that it was displayed in yesterday’s Pitt overtime win over Syracuse.
Let’s face it, Pitt’s season was on life-support. Pat Narduzzi’s team was sitting at 2-3 and coming off two ugly losses on the road to North Carolina and Central Florida.
With an upcoming game against No. 6 Notre Dame, if they had lost yesterday, Pitt was staring at 2-5 and another losing season without a bowl game.
Fan negativity and doubt would’ve cranked up a few levels more and things would’ve gotten real ugly.
Fortunately for Pitt, that scenario is in the rear-view mirror thanks in large part to Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall, Quintin Wirginis and the Pitt offensive line.
“We asked for the game to be on our backs,” Ollison said. “Just put it on us. Put it on the backs. Put it on the offensive line. Put it on the seniors really. I think that’s what we did.”
That’s exactly what they did.
In the fourth quarter and also in overtime, everyone in Heinz Field including Dino Babers and Syracuse knew who was going to get the ball but that didn’t matter as the 1-2 punch of Ollison and Hall were unstoppable.
Of Pitt’s final 21 offensive plays, that senior duo carried the ball 20 times and literally just ran it down Syracuse’s throat.
For the game, Ollison carried the ball 24 times for 192 yards (8 yards/carry) while Hall also went over the century mark with 17 carries for 107 yards (6.3 yards/carry).
Those two players should be examples to every member of the Pitt roster. Both were talented players that had a couple of speed bumps along the way. However, instead of pouting, becoming distractions or even transferring, they stuck with things, remained team leaders and are finishing their careers at Pitt on a high-note.
Ollison and Hall deserve praise but so do the guys on the offensive line who were blocking for him, which has four seniors: Alex Bookser, Stefano Millin, Connor Dintino and Mike Herndon.
While their pass protection might not have been great, the same can’t be said about the job they did run-blocking against a solid Syracuse defensive line. Both Hall and Ollison aren’t backs that are going to make defenders miss. They need some space and holes to run and the guys up front provided it for them.
Sticking with the senior leadership theme, have to mention wide receiver Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who’s 68-yard touchdown on the second play of the 3rd quarter gave Pitt a ten point lead.
The senior spark wasn’t reserved for just the offensive side of the ball.
Quintin Wirginis was doing what he’s done for most of his Pitt career- making plays.
His strip fumble of quarterback Eric Dungey led to Dane Jackson’s defensive touchdown which tied the game at 14.
Then fittingly, on Therran Coleman’s game-ending interception, it was Wirginis who was pressuring Dungey and forced him to get rid of the ball early.
While the win yesterday was impressive and showed plenty of character, it doesn’t have Pitt out of the woods yet.
They sit now with a record of 3-3 but still have four upcoming games they’ll likely be underdogs in: Notre Dame, Duke, Virginia Tech and Miami.
What the win provided is hope that if they continue to get that sort of production from their seniors and upperclassman, that extending their season into December and going to a bowl game might not be impossible.