DEFLATED: With dominating 1st half, Pittsburgh blitzes SU in Homecoming blowout
The two 80-yard sprints proved to be the bookends. One opened up the scoring while shooting a dose of silence into the Carrier Dome. The other effectively ended the game. Together, they opened and closed a loss Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone was willing to apologize for.
In the 33 minutes in between the two plays, Pittsburgh dominated Syracuse play after play in a methodical progression that became a blowout. Thanks to a slow first half — during which Pittsburgh picked apart Syracuse in every facet of its game — and a sudden third-quarter pick-six, the Panthers trampled Syracuse 45-14 Saturday.
After the game, Marrone was not at a loss for words when describing just how Pittsburgh (3-3, 1-0 Big East) dominated the Orange (4-2, 1-1) in the first half. And he wasn’t shying away from any disappointment the 40,168 fans in the Dome might be feeling after the team’s 4-1 start to the season.
’If you want me to apologize, I apologize,’ Marrone said. ‘I do. I mean that.’
Added Marrone: ‘(Pittsburgh) beat us on offense. They beat us on defense. And they beat us on special teams.’
The Panthers methodically orchestrated 28 first-half points. Dinks and dumps from Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri — who went 12-for-16 for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the first half — drove the SU defense to the back of its heels. Then, play-action passes pillaged the deep holes for long gains and touchdowns. There was a 30-yard touchdown pass to Mike Shanahan here and a wheel-route touchdown pass to Ray Graham there.
But it all started with one of the bookends: The 79-yard touchdown pass from Sunseri to Devin Street, just one play and 16 seconds into the Panthers’ 389-yard performance Saturday. On the play, Sunseri hit Street for a screen pass near the Panthers’ line of scrimmage. Around 80 yards later, he was in the end zone. And a first half was forecasted. It was a first half in which Pitt passed the ball much more than Marrone and numerous players on his defense admitted to expecting.
‘It was shocking,’ defensive end Chandler Jones said. ‘We saw on the very first play of the game that they ran a bubble-screen, and they were throwing for the rest of the game on.’
But Marrone didn’t chalk up the unexpected Pitt game plan to a lack of preparation by SU.
‘No,’ Marrone said when asked if he expected the Panthers to pass as much as they did. ‘Not to say we weren’t prepared for it.’
In that first half, Pittsburgh outgained Syracuse offensively with 257 total yards to just 139. The Panthers’ 190 first-half passing yards were 30 yards more than Syracuse’s opposition averaged for entire games prior to Saturday’s loss.
In the second half, the Orange pieced together drives with its first team. In the third quarter, SU statistically defeated the Panthers, outgaining Pitt 108 yards to 21. After that loaded first half, Sunseri amounted just four passing yards in the quarter.
But the only stat that mattered was the score, and the Orange was stuck at seven points after the period.
To make matters worse, Pittsburgh increased its lead to 35-7, thanks to the only play in the quarter that mattered: the second bookend, an 80-yard interception return scamper by Pitt defensive back Ricky Gary. It was a play that was supposed to amount to nothing more than an incompletion for Ryan Nassib. He was just trying to get the ball out of bounds, but his body wouldn’t let him. And it was a play Gary couldn’t believe actually unfolded.
‘I was thinking,’ Gary said, ‘‘Is (Nassib) really throwing the ball?”
Down 28-7 and facing third down with a little more than 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Nassib threw the errant pass directly into the shocked arms of Gary. Gary then scampered the full 80 yards to the end zone to put Pittsburgh up 35-7.
Marrone knew it was too much. The play that started with an empty formation yielded the final blow in an empty game.
‘At halftime, three scores, it was a tough situation, but you can do it,’ Marrone said. ‘When you get to four, I mean, it’s extremely tough.’
It was the second part in a loss that was cemented by two instances. Each lasted fewer than 20 seconds. But with both, Pitt literally ran away with the game.
And if you ask SU strong safety Max Suter, the Orange wasn’t prepared for the game and the first 80-yard sprint to begin with.
Said Suter: ‘I’m going to say it: We didn’t come out ready like we should have been ready.’
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