If you had told Pitt fans before the Syracuse finale that the Orange would score 61 points in today's game, after the shock wore off, the question would likely be how badly the team was beat. But while the Cuse did in fact score that many, the Panthers' 76 points were enough to win today's game.
And, no, that's not an early ACC basketball score.
Today, we saw what happens when two teams play virtually no defense and set a record for the most points in a major college football game. Okay, so no defense may be a little harsh. The Panthers did, after all, score a touchdown off of a Dane Jackson pick six. But that, friends, was mostly it. The two teams combined for over 1,300 yards of offense, so let that sink in.
Seeing Pitt do what they wanted offensively wasn't a huge surprise. The Panthers have scored on everybody this year and have really picked things up lately, scoring 56 against Duke last weekend. Nathan Peterman had five total touchdowns (and nearly a sixth, where he was ruled out of bounds just before the goal line on a long run. James Conner had 160 total yards and three touchdowns. Jester Weah had four catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Quadree Henderson had over 100 yards rushing and a score. You can take your pick in terms of offensive hero today.
None of that was particularly surprising. What was surprising was the ease with which Syracuse scored. The Orange didn't have starting quarterback Eric Dungey but it hardly mattered. His replacement Zack Mahoney had 440 yards and five touchdowns on the day, completing over 70% of his passes. Aside from the pick six to Jackson, he had a pretty perfect day. The impact of not having Dungey simply wasn't felt. Sure, maybe you look at the Mahoney interception and quibble there. But Dungey had thrown a pick in his last four games before going down with an injury and expecting him to do much more than Mahoney isn't all that realistic.
Receiver Amba Etta Tawo, who is one of the top wideouts in the nation was purely unstoppable with 13 catches for 178 yards and five touchdowns. But the Orange offense didn't stop with he and Mahoney. Receiver Ervin Philips had over 100 yards receiving. Four other guys combined for more than 150 yards. Freshman running back Moe Neal had just under 100 yards on the day and he had about 1/3 of his season total coming into today's game. Pitt's vaunted run defense, in fact, gave up 228 yards to Mahoney, Neal, and Dontae Strickland.
I'd like to think that the defense was a product of lackadaisical playing just because the team was ahead nearly the entire game. But I also have to think that once Syracuse topped 30 points or so that head coach Pat Narduzzi was getting pretty upset. The fact is that Syracuse's passing game, as others have been for the Pitt secondary, was just too difficult to stop. Frankly, it's a good thing that Pitt could score at will because Syracuse did that, too. To see the Orange score time and again was frustrating to some degree - even as the Panthers led by two to three touchdowns.
I'll have more in terms of a season recap later. But despite the shootout today against Syracuse, I think Pitt has had a great season. When you factor in the number of key injuries they've had the difficult schedule, and the big wins over Penn State and Clemson, it's hard to ask for much more. Seeing them so close to the Division title was tough and it's also annoying to consider that they could have easily won another couple of games (maybe even three). But if you're a Pitt fan, you have to be happy with how the team played this year. Now, it's a matter of building on this and getting to the next level.
Oh yeah, and win that bowl game, too, boys.