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Dominant Defensive Effort Fuels Pitt in 19-9 Win Over No. 20 Syracuse



The Pitt linebackers corps.

PITTSBURGH — All but one of Pitt’s four losses this season have come despite holding a fourth quarter lead. Pitt entered the fourth quarter against Syracuse with a 17-6 lead.

Of course, aside from an eight-yard Rodney Hammond Jr. gain, two of Pitt’s first three plays in the fourth quarter resulted in a 12-yard sack and a two-yard — yes, that’s correct — punt from Cam Guess.

But despite starting at Pitt’s 27-yard, Pitt’s defense forced a -1-yard drive. A Calijah Kancey tackle for loss and two pass breakups forced a 46-yard Szmyt field goal that died in the wind. Despite an awful start to the quarter, Pitt’s defense wasn’t phased.

It was just another stop for a Pitt defense that shut down No. 20 Syracuse.

Another Syracuse offensive possession ended in a three-and-out punt, after losing -6 yards from an Alexandre sack, and despite allowing one last 49-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, it was a completely dominant defensive display to pick up a 19-9 win at Acrisure Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Pitt’s offense mustered 17 points, and Pitt allowed just 145 yards, only 25 yards on the ground, and limited Syracuse to four three-and-outs to start the second half — five if a missed field goal on the fourth play of a ‘Cuse drive is counted. The defense racked up six sacks, nine tackles for loss and picked up a safety to ice the game away.

Kedon Slovis threw for 178 yards and an interception on 16-of-23 pass attempts, Rodney Hammond Jr. recorded a career-high 124 yards and a touchdown and Jared Wayne put together his second straight 100-yard performance in the air.

A late Israel Abanikanda pseudo-scratch, officially listed as not expected to play by a Pitt spokesman, put even more pressure on Kedon Slovis’ shoulders to start the game. As if he needed any more after the season he’s had.

So, with just one short toss to Rodney Hammond’s seven carries on Pitt’s first offensive possession, Pitt worked its way to a red zone opportunity at the Syracuse 14. Slovis faced some pressure, but instead of throwing the ball away or taking a sack, he made the ill-advised decision to throw the football into a mob of ‘Cuse defenders.

And Syracuse’s Ja’Had Carter picked Slovis off.

Syracuse put together a 12-play, 75-yard off of Carter’s interception in the end zone, capped by a 23-yard field goal from Andre Szmyt.

Slovis completed 3-of-4 passing attempts on Pitt’s second offensive possession, including a 24-yard toss to Jared Wayne, and it opened up the offense enough for the Wildcat to take effect inside the 10, with Hammond running it in from six yards out to take the lead.

Pitt’s defense limited Syracuse to just 94 yards in the first half — almost solely on its second offensive possession — and the final three offensive possessions resulted in just 11 plays for 41 yards and a 48-yard field goal from Szmyt.

Pitt finally capitalized with a scoring drive to end the first half, running an effective one minute drill. Slovis connected with Jared Wayne on two 20-yard catches along the sideline, and Ben Sauls hit a 43-yard field to take a 10-6 lead into the halftime break.

Slovis’s modest bounce back from the horrific interception continued in the second half, hitting Konata Mumpfield on a well-executed bubble screen, but a head-scratching decision to have a double pass play that resulted in Jared Wayne throwing the ball from sideline to sideline ended predictably. With an interception from ‘Cuse’s Isaiah Johnson.

Fortunately for Pitt, the defense continued its strong finish in the first half with an even stronger third quarter, limiting Syracuse to just 15 yards on nine plays — three straight three-and-outs.

Frank Cignetti Jr. also returned to rational play calling after Pitt’s defense forced the second three-and-out following the interception, and C’Bo Flemister capped the best individual drive of his Pitt career — 10 carries for 42 yards (after having 11 carries for 45 yards — with a flip into the end zone to push the lead to 17-6.

Szmyt’s 49-yard field goal cut the lead to 17-9, and Pitt wasn’t quite able to salt the game away with a steady dose of Hammond runs late in the fourth quarter, but a punt downed at the 1 by Dennis resulted in an Alexandre safety. M.J. Devonshire recovered the onside kick with 1:35 left, and Pitt picked up a win.

Pitt will travel to Charlottesville, Virginia next weekend to take on Virginia in another conference clash. At 5-4 (2-3 ACC), Pitt can still finish the regular season with three straight wins to hit the 8-win plateau.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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1 year ago

Defense looked great !
I’m happier than a rooster in a henhouse !

1 year ago

A 2 yard punt!

1 year ago
Reply to  Rjm

The snap could have just as easily sailed into the end zone. It was high and rising when collared. Guess just panicked. He barely touched the ball and Pitt was lucky one of the back three followed the ball because Syracuse could have waltzed in for a TD.

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