Pitt needed a win on Saturday to keep its bowl hopes alive and they got it with a 30-7 drubbing of Syracuse.
While I expected the Panthers to win, I figured the Orange would put up a little more of a fight. The Syracuse offense struggling wasn't a huge surprise since Syracuse has struggled mightily on that side of the ball. The Orange defense, however, was a bit easier to contend with than expected. The Pitt offense scored more points than Clemson or Duke did, and nearly as much as the 31 Notre Dame posted.
No longer in the postseason picture, Syracuse played like it. ESPN called their performance 'lifeless' and it's really hard to disagree with that as they put up little fight. On offense, the Orange put up only seven points, while turning the ball over three times. On defense, they couldn't stop Pitt's rushing game, which had 256 yards despite James Conner playing less than a half after exiting with a hip injury. Backups Chris James and Isaac Bennett did just fine in his absence, though, with 220 yards on 33 carries.
Tyler Boyd added seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown, and also broke a couple of long returns, including a game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown, which was called back on a holding penalty.
The big news, of course, is the loss of Conner. James and Bennett picked up the slack today, but Conner is obviously the best of the bunch. Even looking beyond Pitt's ultimate goal of reaching a bowl game, you hope for his sake that he can play next week against Miami to break Tony Dorsett's touchdown record of 22 scores in a season. Conner tied it today (and broke the ACC record) and you can't help but think he would have broken it if he was healthy and remained in the game.
One other thing of note is the continued decline of kicker Chris Blewitt. Blewitt missed two makeable field goals early in the game. After making his first nine this season, Blewitt went 2-7 following those misses. He rebounded to hit three consecutive ones, which should help his confidence, but even the ones he made looked shaky. The kicking game has really gone from being a team strength to a significant question mark and you hope that the past few games have just been a bump in the road - particularly since Pitt has him for two more seasons.
Also important to credit Pitt's defense here, too. As I mentioned, the Orange offense has underwhelmed this season, but so has the Panthers' D. Good to see that unit force some turnovers and make plays. It's also worth noting that the defense was missing some key players. In addition to starting safety Terrish Webb, who went down a few games ago, Pitt was also playing without Bam Bradley and starter Darryl Render in the second half - both sat out with injuries.
The win today may have just delayed the inevitable, of course. Pitt has an uphill battle to get to a bowl game and will need to beat a pretty hot Miami team to do so. But at least the Panthers' postseason hopes live on for another day and having something to play for in the final game beats not having that opportunity.