No. 14 Pittsburgh improved to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the Conference. It's the best start for the Panthers since quarterback Dan Marino and the 1982 squad went 9-1, but finished with two straight losses. In the Big East, Pitt is unbeaten for the first time at this point in the season.
"I knew that this was going to be a challenge for us, and it was,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You get a week off, and you win the way we won against South Florida. And the players go home for the weekend, and everybody is talking about rankings and patting them on the back.
"It's very difficult for 18-year-old kids. (But) I thought we had a great week of preparation, and the kids bought in. If they didn't and weren't mentally ready for a four-quarter fight ... it would have been easy to let one mistake compound into two or three.''
The offensive stars were freshman running back Dion Lewis with 110 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries and senior tight end Dorin Dickerson with seven catches for 118 yards and one score. Lewis now has 12 rushing touchdowns and one receiving for 78 points to tie Tony Dorsett for third place among Pitt freshmen. LeSean McCoy has the record with 90 points in 2007.
"I don't really look at me and Ray being freshmen,'' Lewis said. "We're just players on the Pitt team. For me, I'm just going out there and doing what I'm expected to do. My teammates expect me to make big plays, and I'm happy to be able to do that. Our game plan was to do a little bit different stuff with reverses and short passes, and that really opened it up.''
Dickerson was the first Pitt tight end to reach the century mark in receiving since Erik Gill had 126 on just two catches on Sept. 4, 2004. Dickerson now has 10 touchdown catches to rank among the NCAA leaders and set a Panthers' record. Kris Wilson had nine during the 2003 season.
"It was a big victory for us this week,'' Dickerson said. "Anybody would want to have 10 touchdowns, but I'm just happy to contribute to the team. Anything I can do to help out, so I'm glad to be able to score all those touchdowns.''
Pitt didn't throw much downfield, but really didn't need to do that due to 262 rushing yards overall. Ironically, the Panthers' wideouts ran for more yardage combined than Lewis. Fifth-year senior Cedric McGee ran reverses for 27 and 29 yards with the latter going for his first touchdown at Pitt, while sophomore Jonathan Baldwin ran for 61 yards on his only carry.
"It obviously wasn't our greatest day on offense,'' Pitt quarterback Bill Stull said, "but ... a win's a win, even though it wasn't very sound. (And) when things in the air really weren't going so great, we were able to run the ball. It's our bread and butter, and our guys up front love running the football.''
Pitt's defense gave up a 58-yard run to Delone Carter, as Syracuse got into the red zone on its opening possession, but the Panthers eventually held the Orange to a 29-yard field goal and got stronger as the game went on. Pitt finished with three interceptions and six sacks. The Panthers led the nation with 4.13 sacks per contest before this game and now have 39 in nine games (4.33).
Greg Williams returned his pick 50 yards for a touchdown. He also scored on an interception return last season against Connecticut and returned a fumble for a score earlier this season at Buffalo. Junior defensive end Jabaal Sheard tipped a pass by Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus, and Williams collected it before racing to the end zone to give the Panthers a 13-3 lead before halftime.
Redshirt junior place-kicker Dan Hutchins had field goals from 19 and 45 yards, tying his career-long kick, to give Pitt its early lead. Hutchins also made a 33-yarder late in the game, but missed from 47 yards. Redshirt freshman Kevin Harper missed from 51 yards with four seconds left in the first half, as time management failed the Panthers.
"It was close early, but Greg made that big play,'' Pitt defensive tackle Gus Mustakas said. "It turned the game around. He finished off the play, but I'd like to think the D-line got it started with the deflection. We had good pressure most of the day and were able to get some sacks, too, and that helps our DBs.''
Along with Williams, redshirt freshman safety Jarred Holley had his first career interception. And redshirt junior defensive end Greg Romeus deflected a pass and pulled it in for his initial career pick. Romeus also had a half sack, along with fifth-year senior tackle Craig Bokor. Redshirt sophomores Brandon Lindsey and Chas Alecxih had two sacks each to go with a team sack when Paulus was called for intentional grounding.
Pitt's offense got going on the first drive in the second half with a nine-play drive in 4:22. Cam Saddler returned the kickoff 32 yards. Stull hit Dickerson for 12, and fullback Henry Hynoski converted a third-and-one. Stull's dump-off to Lewis went for 31 yards to the 1, and the freshman tailback capped the drive with the short TD burst on third down.
The Panthers went the distance again on their second possession, as Baldwin ran a reverse for 61 yards to the 14, and Stull connected with Dickerson for the score to make it 27-3. Hutchins added a 33-yard field goal nearly four minutes into the fourth quarter to extend Pitt's lead. McGee capped the Panthers' scoring with a 29-yard touchdown run on a reverse.
Wannstedt eschewed a punt on a late possession to give Syracuse the ball near midfield, and six penalties -- including four pass-interference calls on the second- and third-team defense -- got the Orange to first-and-goal where it eventually scored to set the final score.
Notes: Holley led Pitt with nine tackles, including eight solo, and he also was stellar on special teams. ... Lindsey has worked his way into the rotation at DE even though he didn't play the position until this past spring. ... Baldwin had just one catch for five yards, but missed two sure TDs when Stull overthrew him. ... The attendance was 46,885.
Pitt 37, Syracuse 10
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