The Pittsburgh lead was precarious to that point, primarily due to a soft zone defensive scheme that allowed Syracuse to drive 63 yards for a touchdown in just 10 plays and 1:35 with just 1:46 remaining and nearly get into field-goal range shortly after that when the Panthers turned it over on downs.
However, Greg Romeus used his tremendous quickness, athleticism and long arms to sack Syracuse quarterback Cameron Dantley, force him to stop the clock with a spike and complete a long pass to win the game.
After Romeus pushed the Orange out of game-tying field-goal range, Dantley fired incomplete on the final play to end the game.
"The quarterback actually stepped up, so I just reached in and grabbed him and was able to get him down,'' Romeus said. "It feels good to get those sacks, because we work so hard the entire game and sometimes can't get any. So, as a D-line, we were playing real hard in this game and working to get to the quarterback. Fortunately, we got to him a few times.
"And we knew if we could pressure their quarterbacks, that would make it a lot easier on our linebackers. ... Some things were working for me, but I knew if I got off the ball as fast as I could I could get in there. And coach always tells us that the game's over with a sack in the final two minutes, so we were all trying to get it. I was just fortunate enough to do it.''
The Panthers, who did not force a turnover, sacked Dantley four times and Orange starting quarterback Andrew Robinson twice. Fifth-year senior defensive end Joe Clermond led Pitt with 2.5 sacks, while outside linebackers Adam Gunn and Shane Murray had one each. Redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop, who led the Panthers with 12 total tackles and seven solo stops, added a half a sack. Romeus also had a deflected pass, while fifth-year senior defensive end Chris McKillop had four solo tackles and five total.
"Our mentality on the D-line, we all know that when we come out of the game we can put somebody else in who is just as good or better,'' Clermond said. "And that allows us to play hard until we get exhausted. Then, we rotate another guy in there. So, nobody has to play when they're tired.
"That way, everybody can put forth their best effort on every play. You're not worried about how long you're out there or how long the drive is. You can just go out and play as fast as you can, go as hard as you can, and try to get as much production as possible. So, that's the way we do it.''
Despite it's strong effort up front, Pitt's defense nearly folded at the end in what appeared to be a prevent defense. Wannstedt noted that the Panthers were not in a prevent defense and offered an explanation.
"We were just trying to prevent the big play, and they hit a couple,'' he said. "The clock was as difficult as anything. Every time we pressed them they threw it deep, so you're trying to prevent the big play. When we would play off, they completed some underneath and stopped the clock.''
"So, you've got one of two options, and we tried changing it up on them a bit. But they threw the ball and caught it pretty good. And their second-team quarterback came in and gave them a spark. I thought he did pretty good.''
But Romeus believed the Panthers were ready for the Orange signal-callers.
"We knew they had a quarterback who could make big plays, so we needed to pressure him to keep him from completing a long pass,'' Romeus said. "Every day in practice, we work hard on getting to the quarterback and putting pressure on them. And coach has a gospel for all the things we need to do, and we just work hard to execute them as much as possible.
"Against Syracuse, we did a good job with our execution, especially the guys on the D-line, but ... it was a team effort. In some games, the offense does really well and the defense needs picked up. And other times, the defense can pick up the offense, like we did in this game. So, we're all working together as a team, and that's the best way to be successful.''
And with a player like Romeus back for three more seasons, Pitt's defense has a chance to be extremely successful in the future.
Romeus, Pitt D-Line Apply Pressure
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