Film Review: Breaking down Pittsburgh's fake punt against Syracuse

Our weekly film review focuses on maybe the biggest play in Saturday's Syracuse vs Pittsburgh matchup, Pitt's fake punt in the fourth quarter on what proved to be the final drive of the game.

During Syracuse's loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, the Panthers ran out the clock in the fourth quarter behind a 19-play drive that ended with a game winning field goal as time expired. The key play on that drive was a fake punt with 4:51 left in the game. Pitt had a 4th and 7 from their own 48 yard line when they called the play. Let's take a look at how the play unfolded.

Here is the punt formation for Pitt. It looks nearly identical to their punt formation used previously throughout the game, with one notable difference. Instead of having one player split wide on each side of the formation, they have two on the left side (circled at the bottom of the picture). This allows the action from the Pitt players that become receivers on the fake a lot of room to work at the top of the picture.

Here you can see Pitt punter Ryan Winslow after taking the snap. He sprints towards the wide side of the field. Keep in mind, the first down line is the SU 45. Galambos is starting to run his pattern, with Syracuse freshman Kenterius Womack in coverage. He is the key to this play as it goes forward.

Womack remains in coverage, but has made a decision at this point. With Winslow running forward, Womack decides to stay with Galambos initially, then lets him go and sprints towards Winslow. This is the mistake that allows Galambos to be wide open when Winslow throws the ball.

Here is the separation from Galambos when Womack moves towards Winslow rather than staying in coverage. The first down marker is the SU 45 as previously noted and is highlighted in the picture above. Winslow is a good 15 yards behind the line to gain. Womack's best move would have been to stay with Galambos longer and force Winslow to run past the line of scrimmage. Then, Womack would have enough room to get to Winslow well before he gets to the first down marker in order to make the stop and give Syracuse the ball back. 

This is the result when Winslow releases the ball. Galambos is open by nearly five yards, allowing Winslow to loft a soft pass downfield. Galambos catches it at the SU 45 and gains a few more yards before he is tackled. 

Womack was in a difficult spot. He had to make a split second decision in a situation he has likely never been in during live game action. Most likely, he was thinking about putting pressure on Winslow, expecting he had help coverage behind him to cover Galambos.

When he looks at the film, he will see that if he stays with Galambos and forces Winslow to make a decision to throw into coverage or try to get the first down by running it himself, Womack would have been in perfect position to deflect the pass or come up and make the stop. 

In the end, it was converted for a first down and it kept Pitt's drive alive rather than giving Syracuse the chance at a game winning drive of their own. The Syracuse defense had a couple of third down chances afterwards, but were unable to get off the field. 

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