For a while, it looked like Pitt would come back and beat Syracuse yet again after spotting the Orange an early 14-0 lead. Unfortunately for Pitt, it was one point too many.
Anson gave his thoughts last night after the game and I agree with him on many things. Quite frankly, Pitt should have won this game. The defense, outside of the first and last drives, controlled the Orange offense that came in as the best in the Big East. The offense had several chances on Syracuse's side of the field to get points. They ended up with only 13 and also gave Syracuse a touchdown after Drew Carswell fumbled a pass midway through the first quarter.
Bye weeks continue to haunt Pitt. I don't know if this loss can be placed on the new coaching staff or Pitt was taking Syracuse lightly with a big game against Louisville next weekend, but Pitt is not preparing well for teams following a lengthy break and it's extremely frustrating as a fan to watch this team struggle so much. We wondered if Pitt maybe was better off not having the week off after the offensive outburst they had in their 2 prior games and now we're seeing that's true. Pitt came out sputtering early and, outside of the second quarter, didn't get going offensively at all. It goes back to preparation and Pitt wasn't prepared. This is Paul Chryst's first season as a head coach, but this isn't is first go around being a football coach. He should know by now how to prepare a team after a bye week.
If we're going to place blame on one area in this loss, it's the offensive line. They had arguably their worst game of the season, giving Ray Graham absolutely nothing to help the ground game get going and making several costly mistakes deep in Syracuse territory that took Pitt out of field goal range. This line is going to be a project and it's going to take a couple recruiting classes to get the talent, depth, and experience Pitt needs for me to not always point to them as the biggest question mark each game. Pitt had 6 penalties for just 35 yards, but the most costly ones were directly related to the offensive line's play.
But don't let Pitt's mistakes cause you to think that Syracuse didn't deserve to win. Their defense disrupted Pitt's biggest weapon in the ground game and forced Pitt to have to win through the air. Tino Sunseri has had a good season thus far, but I don't think Pitt can win on his arm alone just yet. Tino continues to progress as a QB and after watching him play thus far, I wish that he could get one more season with Paul Chryst. As much criticism as he's received, I really like the toughness and leadership he's shown this season. I've been a critic of Tino in the past, but I really think with another year of Chryst's offense and he could be the kind of QB we know he's capable of.
The defense, especially Aaron Donald, had a great game. Syracuse came in as the top offense in the Big East and Pitt held them to 7 points and just 305 total yards. After a very shaky start to the season, the defense seems to be on the right track and they're doing what we've come to expect from a Pitt defense - get pressure on the quarterback, win the first down battle, and force turnovers. Ryan Nassib isn't Dan Marino by any standard, but he's one of the better QB's Pitt is going to face this season and the Panthers did a nice job limiting the passing game. The run defense is still a work in progress. Part of it is due to the problems Pitt has at linebacker - Pitt just doesn't have the type of player like an Adam Gunn or a Scott McKillop that will draw a lot of attention from opposing offenses and act as a great run stopper. But Pitt was clearly surprised or not prepared for the Orange running game. They focused so much on limiting the big play through the air that they often were left vulnerable on the ground.
We've already seen the defense handle a dual-threat QB in Logan Thomas and they get a similar type next week when Teddy Bridgewater and Louisville come to Heinz Field. From what I've seen, the defense should come into the game confident in their ability to limit the Cardinals offensively. But the run defense is going to be something to watch early. If Louisville is picking up yards in bunches, Pitt is in for a long day.
The offense is still a work in progress and it's something that we just have to accept for this season. We've seen what Pitt's offense can look like when it's running correctly and Pitt can and should get there. It just might not be this season. Last year, we saw the same thing with the spread. Pitt played lights out against South Florida and we saw the offense's potential. But it takes time for the offense to fully master a new coaching staff's playbook. I don't think Pitt is as far away as Anson wrote yesterday. I think this system will work for Pitt and we've seen pro-style offense work here before with Dave Wannstedt. I still think it's going to take a few years for the offense to really get going just because of the offensive line. But as far as learning the playbook and it's intricacies, they are getting there. We as a fan base just need to be patient with this program.