Orange Baffled By Late Season Collapse

Saturday, Pitt needs a win over Syracuse to secure its fourth consecutive bowl bid. The Orange also need one more win to be bowl eligible, but would like to get over the hump against the Panthers--a team they last beat in 2004. The Orange haven't won in Pittsburgh in 10 years.

A month ago, Syracuse had a legitimate shot at the Big East title. Four consecutive losses later, it needs to win at Pittsburgh this weekend just to become bowl eligible.

Not much worked in last week's 30-13 loss to Cincinnati, and with a tough game with the Panthers on tap the Orange players and coaches didn't have much time to find answers. Head coach Doug Marrone is beyond frustrated at this point.

"I can't believe that I've disappointed the fans, the people, everyone. It's my responsibility, and that's why I don't think people can understand it," Marrone said. "If I was selfish, and didn't care -- maybe. I care too much about this community, where this program was, where I want to take this program, the administration, the faculty and the players. Right now, I feel like I'm letting them down. So you don't really know how that feels."

The players didn't have any more answers as they looked to regroup.

"It is tough to explain how upset everybody is. Just mentally, after another loss like that, it is just tough to deal with," senior linebacker Dan Vaughan said after the loss to the Bearcats.

But running back Antwan Bailey had already refocused.

"We still have everything in front of us. We have one more game. One more game that if we win, we will be bowl eligible. We still can go out on top," he said. "Everything is on the line. It is like a playoff game. We either win or we go home."

That's the attitude the staff is looking for. The Panthers are a tough opponent, especially on its own senior day, but the Orange have the talent to send their seniors home with the same disappointed feeling that they experienced in their own final home game. And if so, the team's goal of a bowl game will be reached. Pittsburgh is in the same boat, with the loser finishing out of the running at 5-7.

"I told the players afterward, we have opportunities and we have to take advantage of it," Marrone said. "How many times do you get a chance in the bottom of the ninth to have a chance to hit the ball? It's not going to be a home run, but for us to go to a bowl game is important. We have to play better, so I don't know what type of game it's going to be. I just know that our focus has to be on ourselves right now."

--Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett tried something different in the loss to Cincinnati, moving from the coaching box to the sidelines to call the plays. The change was designed to more closely mirror the atmosphere and eye contact that he gets during practice.

--The four-game losing streak that Syracuse has entering this week is the longest since the 2007. That season ended in a 2-10 record.

--Running back Antwan Bailey passed a Syracuse legend in the loss to Cincinnati. His 135 yards against the Bearcats gave him 2,091 for his career, moving him past Jim Brown for 17th placed on the school's all-time list.

SERIES HISTORY: Pittsburgh leads Syracuse 33-30-3 (last meeting, 2010, 45-14 Pittsburgh).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Orange offense still looks better on the stat sheet than it does on the field. Even with the bye week changes, it struggled with the drops against Cincinnati, and the unite looks like it's running a race with the parking brake on. Even Nathaniel Hackett's move to the sidelines to call the plays last week didn't seem to have much of an effect.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Orange had a hard time stopping the running game against Cincinnati, from the Bearcat running backs and quarterbacks. It's literally limping to the end of the season, with the secondary in particular decimated by injuries as well as Phillip Thomas' suspension.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a lack of concentration. It goes back to practice time. If you drop a ball in practice, it's going to show up in a game. As you've seen in the past couple weeks, we've had a lot of dropped balls. I feel like it's all mental, all concentration." -- Syracuse wide receiver Alec Lemon, on the troubles the Orange receivers are having with dropped passes.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Syracuse at Pittsburgh, Dec. 3 -- Both teams enter the weekend with a 5-6 record, needing one more win to make a bowl game. The winner extends its season, while the loser goes home before the winter holidays.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Get out of the funk. Syracuse is playing like a team on a four-game losing streak, waiting for something bad to happen. A more assertive look on offense would help, but if the Orange sit back and play passively on both sides of the ball again, their bowl dreams will end in Pittsburgh.

RB Antwon Bailey -- Bailey enters the week with 998 rushing yards, two away from 1,000 and just ahead of Jim Brown on the Syracuse career list. He can help to take pressure off the defense by controlling the game on the ground.

WR Alec Lemon -- Lemon caught three passes for 25 yards against Cincinnati, tying him with Mike Williams and Kevin Johnson for the school record in receptions in a season with 60. He's the most dependable option that Ryan Nassib has right now other than tight end Nick Provo, and the one most capable of stretching the field.

CB Shamarko Thomas -- Thomas had a tough game against Cincinnati, getting cleanly beat on a Bearcat touchdown and getting called for a personal foul for a late hit. He's going to have to play a lot better this weekend against the Panthers.

--CB R'Shard Anderson left the Cincinnati game early with an upper body injury. His status for Pittsburgh is uncertain.

--FB Adam Harris missed the second half of the Cincinnati game with an upper body injury.

--DL Mikhail Marinovich missed the second half of the Cincinnati loss with a back injury. It's been bothering him off and on for most of the season.

--WR Jeremiah Koberna, the primary Syracuse kick returner, was sidelined by a lower body injury suffered in the third quarter against Cincinnati.

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