As if the four-game losing streak wasn't bad enough for the Orange ,it spotted Pitt 10 points early on. Dorian Graham bobbled the opening kick after it fell short of where he expected, and the Panthers recovered. On the very next play, Tino Sunseri found a wide-open Isaac Bennett out of the backfield for an easy 22-yard score.
Seconds later, on Syracuse's second offensive play, Ryan Nassib was intercepted by Brandon Lindsey. After a roughing the passer penalty on Marquis Spruill, he atoned for the mistake with a third-down sack of Sunseri to force a field goal try. Kevin Harper connected from 37-yards out to put Pitt up 10-0 less than three minutes into the game.
"We were down 10-0, but I thought the kids did a nice job of trying to fight back," coach Doug Marrone said after the loss.
Then when thinking of how the Orange loss, the coach wasted little time explaining things.
"It's kind of the same story of the season," he said. "Turnovers and not taking advantage of things in the red zone at the right time."
Marrone was dead on, as Syracuse failed to score touchdowns when it was close after a nearly 10-minute drive in the fourth quarter. Soon after, Nassib turned the ball over one last time on the way to Pitt putting the game out of reach.
But facing the 10-0 hole, Nassib and company responded, with a nine-play, nearly six-minute drive to slow the pace down. After making plays with his feet to allow receivers to get open, Nassib executed a screen pass to Antwon Bailey to perfection against a Panthers blitz, and the tailback took it 26 yards for a score.
Even with the effort on the way to another solid day, the senior was emotional after playing his final collegiate game.
"They tell you to play every snap as if it's your last," Bailey – who finished with 96 total yards and the score – said after the game. "It's very hard to do…"
Even with some momentum behind it, the Orange would not hold up on defense during the ensuing possession. Sunseri found his running backs in the passing game and backup QB/tight end Anthony Gonzalez strolled into the end zone on a 17-yard keeper after breaking Chandler Jones' contain and getting by Jeremi Wilkes in the open field.
After another short kickoff, this one out of bounds, SU managed just one first down as Nassib was pressured on every pass attempt in a short span. Pitt responded with another easy-looking drive, until an odd play resulted in an SU sack of Sunseri. Olando Fisher came through untouched, as the Panther offensive line froze after appearing to have drawn SU offsides.
Once the Orange regained possession, Nassib became locked in with Alec Lemon. The two hooked-up for gains of 22 and 27 yards to put SU inside the 10-yard line. However, a pair of Bailey carries and a misfire from Nassib to Nick Provo at the back pylon of the end zone led to a short field goal from Ross Krautman.
Provo would later haul in a pass to break the school record for receptions by a tight end.
Pittsburgh moved right down the field soon after, but the drive stalled after Fisher made another great play in the backfield on the way to the quarterback. Harper could not connect from 44-yards out and the Orange was in business before Pitt continued to pressure Nassib up the middle.
Harper made good on his next attempt, connecting from 6-yards out with minimal time remaining in the opening half. Syracuse manufactured little in the two-minute offense as did Pitt once it obtained the ball one final time.
The Orange defense provided an early spark in the third quarter, as Chandler Jones not only got in Sunseri's passing lane on a swing attempt, but he went up with two hands for the interception before returning it 32 yards to the Pitt 28.
"It was a big momentum-changer," Jones said. "We went on to score actually."
From there, Jerome Smith got a short-yardage carry that he extended for 10 yards while breaking tackles. He duplicated the effort on the next play well enough to find the end zone for the first time as a college athlete.
With the lead cut to 20-17, Syracuse's defense remained hot with what looked like a three-and-out. However Devin Street made an acrobatic catch and somehow landed in bounds to convert. Sunseri then hit a 10-yard strike to Mike Shanaham to beat Shamarko Thomas in man coverage, before turning to Corey Davis on the ground for three straight tries. SU was up to the challenge, forcing another Harper field goal try. He converted from 36.
The Orange had to come up big on defense again soon after, as Nassib scrambled for a first down before being stripped by Lindsey. After another Harper field goal, this time from 47, Pitt extended the lead to 26-17 nearly 10 minutes into the third frame.
The defense was called upon during sudden change once again on the next drive, as Jarrod West could not hold onto the ball after securing a short catch. It held for a third straight possession, and the offense held the ball for nearly 10 minutes on the way to a field goal to cut the margin back down to six points. During the 19-play push, Smith and Bailey – who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in the loss - carried the load and converted several first downs before Nassib fired an incompletion to West on third-and-goal. Krautman converted another kick.
Syracuse again called on its defense to make another second-half stop. It answered the call, but the offense let it down on consecutive possessions to allow the Panthers to put the nail in the coffin. Nassib was strip-sacked by Lindsey and the ball fell right into the hands of Antwuan Reed – who returned it 20 yards for the dagger touchdown.
"We had a chance to win the game and we turned the ball over," Marrone said.
It wouldn't be the last, either.
Nassib threw an interception, that went off of the hands of Van Chew, soon after to account for SU's sixth turnover with less than three minutes to play. The Panthers then ran clock and secured the victory.