Pittsburgh Panthers Team Report

Pittsburgh went into its Big East match against Syracuse missing a running game and defense. The Panthers are still without the former, but they rediscovered the latter and pounded the Orangemen 34-14 Saturday.

After falling behind 14-7 after the first quarter, the Panthers defense took command. They held the Orangemen to 195 yards, forced three turnovers (including the first two interceptions of the season by QB R.J. Anderson) and held RB Walter Reyes without a touchdown for the first time this season.

They also got a defensive score when Josh Lay returned a botched pitchout 20 yards for a touchdown. Redshirt freshman LB Brian Bennett led Pittsburgh with eight tackles, including one for a 15-yard loss.

"We tried to prepare our guys that if it doesn't start off good, we have to hang in there," coach Walt Harris said. "We have to hang in there, keep trusting, keep believing, keep our confidence that good things will happen. Just stick to it, and we did."

The game was billed as one matching two teams with great offenses and no defenses, and it started that way. Syracuse scored first when CB Steven Gregory picked up an errant snap on a punt and ran it in from 10 yards out. Pittsburgh responded with an 80-yard drive to tie, and then fell back by a touchdown when Anderson scored on an option play to complete an 80-yard march.

That basically was the Orangemen's last hurrah. They had 92 yards in the first quarter, but the Panthers, who had been burned for 1,996 yards by four previous opponents, held Syracuse to 103 the rest of the game.

The only rub for the Panthers was their failure to get a running game going. They had a minus-43 yards rushing for the first two quarters and barely managed to get on the plus side for the game (a net 44 yards on 39 carries). RB Jawan Walker, who has taken over in the absence of the injured Brandon Miree, had 47 yards on 14 carries. Miree is out indefinitely with a stress fracture (heel), which was first reported as a deep calf bruise.

Fortunately for the Panthers, QB Rod Rutherford responded with a 21-for-32 passing performance for 310 yards and three touchdowns. He completed his first 12 attempts of the game. Rutherford was intercepted once but had three touchdown throws.

Almost half of those passing yards were to sophomore sensation Larry Fitzgerald who again proved unstoppable. Fitzgerald ended the game with eight catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns, the 13th consecutive game he has caught a touchdown pass, tying the NCAA record set by Michigan State's Charles Rogers. Princell Brockenbrough tallied 4 catches for 64 yards and is now establishing himself as a complementary threat.

Now 5-2 overall and 2-0 in the Big East, the Panthers begin a crucial November run with a trip to Boston College on Saturday. Two important pieces of the Panthers' puzzle thus far this season have been missing, and this game provided some hope that one of them may be settling into place.

"Our defense played the way we expect them to play, the way we know they can play, and the way they have played around here. That was tremendously gratifying," said Coach Walt Harris.


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