A win is a win, and for a Syracuse fan base growing inpatient with on the field results, the Orange's victory over Pittsburgh Friday night was a welcome sight. But all is not well despite ending an eight game losing streak to FBS opponents, and seven game losing streak to the Panthers themselves.
The Orange offense has regressed week to week, and they struggled in certain phases again on Friday.
The Passing Game
Ryan Nassib got off to a great start. He completed 11 of his first 13 passes, and led the Orange to an opening drive touchdown. The fast start was something Syracuse had been discussing since the beginning of the season. It finally came to fruition, and Nassib was a big reason why. He was making his reads, and throwing the ball accurately.
Despite starting 11 for 13, Nassib finished 8 for his last 17. He really struggled finding open receivers, and was inaccurate on a few passes. While some of the passing gae struggles were not his fault, not throwing the ball away is inexcusable. Several times Nassib was pressured but had ample opportunity to throw it away, and instead took a sack. He must get better at that going forward.
Nassib's interception prevented Syracuse from possibly putting the game out of reach, especially with the way the defense was playing. He tried to hit Sales on a fade to the back corner of the endzone. He made the right read, as Sales had single coverage. But the pass was poorly thrown. The Pitt corner had inside position. The ball needed to be thrown to the back pilon with some air under it to give Sales a chance to get position and jump to make the catch. If the ball is placed there, only Sales can come down with it. Instead, it was severely underthrown and resulted in yet another redzone turnover.
The offensive line allowed pressure from a three man rush most of the game. Ryan Nassib was under pressure from the Pitt defensive line, and a lot of the issues came up the middle. Pugh and Hickey were beat a couple of times, but were solid. The interior of the line was not. With two or three linemen often blocking one defender, it was surprising to see the ease at which they collapsed the pocket.
Marcus Sales, while solid, struggled to get open down the field most of the game and had what could have been a critical drop. Nassib made a nice read on third down on a skinny post and delivered an accurate ball. Sales just dropped it.
The receivers as a whole struggled to get open down the field after the first drive. Part of that had to do with Pitt's coverage, but Syracuse never adjusted. The short passing game was open, as Pitt focused on the intermediate and deep attack. Becket Wales was not utilized, and would have been a primary candidate for five or seven yard routes in the middle of the field.
The Running Game
Jerome Smith was very, very good. He ran hard, showed burst through the hole, and led the Orange with over 60 yards on 10 carries. Smith is developing into a solid back who can do a little bit of everything. He seems to be getting better as the season progresses.
Adonis Ameen-Moore finally received some carries. On his first carry of the season, he powered forward for a one-yard touchdown. He also helped close the game out with some nice, powerful runs on the final drive of the game. Ameen-Moore did exactly what Syracuse fans had hoped. He was excellent in short yardage situations, and used his large frame to power through the line. He should be utilized in this role going forward.
Ryan Nassib made solid decisions running the ball. He read the zone-read perfectly, and picked the right times to scramble for yardage.
The offensive line was good in their run blocking. They created running lanes against a solid Pitt defense, and the Orange backs took advantage. Runs up the middle were especially effective, as were off-tackle plays. Both Justin Pugh and Sean Hickey performed well, as did Zach Chibane.
The last drive went back to power football. Syracuse ran the ball on 10 of 11 plays to run out the clock, and were very successful in doing so. There were no tricks here. It was straight power football where the offensive line blew up the Pitt defensive line to provide running room for Orange backs.
Prince Tyson-Gulley continues to be a mystery. He showed signs of becoming the feature back early in the season, but outside of a long catch and run against Stony Brook, has been a non-factor in the last three games. Gulley only had 31 yards on 10 carries.
Where was Ashton Broyld in this game? Doug Marrone mentioned afterwards that they use the best players to give them the best chance to win. How does Ashton Broyld not fall into that description? It was surprising, especially given the offensive struggles throughout much of the game.
Syracuse still has a lot of work to do offensively. Consistency is the main issue. The Orange look unstoppable at times, and look helpless at other times.
They still struggle to take advantage of opportunities. They started with good field position multiple times, yet couldn't even get into field goal range. A nice drive that could have extended the lead was lost when Nassib threw an interception in the redzone.
The good news is, penalties were significantly cut back. No false starts in this game for the Orange, which was important. Syracuse really only shot themselves in the foot on a couple of occasions. The interception, and the Sales drop. It was nice to see a more disciplined team.
Syracuse starts Big East play the way they wanted, with a win. They now face a Rutgers team that is similar to Pitt in a lot of ways. However, the Scarlet Knights are more talented. The Orange will look to get back to .500 next week.