Fitzgerald stumbles, Orange still lose

PITTSBURGH -- Give credit to the Syracuse defense for holding Pittsburgh standout sophomore Larry Fitzgerald to an average day. Of course, when you're leading the nation in receiving, an average game is pretty darn good.

Pittsburgh defeated the Syracuse football team 34-14 on Saturday at Heinz Field. Fitzgerald led the charge with 149 yards and two scores. Coming into the game, he had averaged 144 yards and 13 points per game.

"It's frustrating," SU coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We needed to contain Fitzgerald and we came short.

"When we had single coverage on him, we got hurt. When you put more pressure on the quarterback you have to pick your spots."

The Orangemen (4-3, 1-2 Big East) chose poorly. Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford burned the man-to-man coverage and threw for 310 yards and three scores.

"A lot of the times when they were blitzing they were playing me man," Fitzgerald said, "so we were trying to take advantage of the man coverage. Sometimes you get lucky."

At halftime, Syracuse gained 125 yards total offense. Fitzgerald had 105 yards by himself. On the second Pitt drive of the game, Fitzgerald out-jumped Gregory for a 43-yard bomb from Rutherford. Two plays later, Fitzgerald corralled a 3-yard touchdown pass in which he tripped in the endzone, regained his balance, and grasped the lob from Rutherford.

On Pitt's next drive, Fitzgerald sliced through the SU zone defense and found himself wide open at midfield. A soft toss by Rutherford later and Fitzgerald had himself a 35-yard reception.

"You're not going to see too many receivers better than him," Pitt defensive back Shawntae Spencer said.

With his first-quarter touchdown pass, Fitzgerald tied an NCAA record by catching a touchdown in 13 straight games. He also eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the second consecutive year, he becomes the first Big East player ever to do so.

Fitzgerald found himself wide-open for most of the day by slicing through the Syracuse zone. While SU was in man-to-man coverage, Fitzgerald used his 6-foot-3 frame to out-leap the Syracuse defenders. No matter what method the Orangemen tried to employ, Fitzgerald found a way to counter it.

Pasqualoni had hoped to stifle Fitzgerald's ability by pressuring Rutherford, but it didn't work out as planned. Syracuse sacked Pitt (5-2, 2-0) three times, but often yielded one-on-one coverage to Fitzgerald as a result.

"We're not going to beat Pitt with 14 points," SU tight end Joe Donnelly said. "Especially with Fitzgerald and Rutherford. We knew this was going to be a shootout to win this game."

Notes

Syracuse jumped out to an early lead when Pitt punter Andy Lee fumbled the snap on its first drive. Cornerback Steve Gregory picked up the loose ball and raced seven yards to the endzone. (On that same possession, the Panthers faced a second and 41 situation. Pitt faced a fourth and 24 before the punt was fumbled. )Walter Reyes rushed for 97 yards on Saturday, but finished with zero touchdowns, breaking his streak of 11 straight games with a score. Troy Nunes, who quarterbacked last year's Syracuse team, made the trip from his hometown in Butler, Pa., to watch Saturday's game from the SU sideline.

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