BY NATALIE BIGLEY
If Friday night’s game was the season turning point Pitt coach Paul Chryst talked about heading into the trip to Syracuse, the Panthers aren’t headed in the right direction.
The Panthers (2-3) had a modest two-game win streak snapped as they were unable to squeeze out a victory over the Orange (2-3) at the Carrier Dome. The loss dropped Pitt’s record in Big East games to 0-2.
Chryst talked about the tough loss on Monday in addition to the margin between winning and losing. He said the Panthers must find ways to win close games, starting this week as Pitt hosts No. 18 Louisville (5-0) Saturday at 11 a.m..
“To win games, you have to do certain things or you can’t do certain things,” he said. “We just have to find a way to get over the hump.”
In the final five minutes against Syracuse, it looked like Pitt might get over the hump. Quarterback Tino Sunseri directed a late-game drive, and a 24-yard pass to Mike Shanahan gave the Panthers a first down at the Syracuse 17-yard line.
Pitt’s chances were dashed on the next play when Sunseri was pressured by the Syracuse defense and was penalized for intentional grounding, pushing the Panthers back 15 yards.
Chryst said this was one of a few poorly executed offensive plays, placing part of the blame for it on himself.
“Certainly, we’re in good field position and then enough things happen that now, instead of being on the 17, we’re on the 32,” he said. “With that being said, that was first down. We still had two more downs.”
Those next downs did not help the Panthers cause.
On second and 25, Syracuse blitzed and reached Sunseri for a sack. And on third down, Drew Carswell dropped a short pass, forcing the Panthers to punt.
Though Pitt’s offense struggled finishing drives, the defense had the right idea for most of the game.
Syracuse picked up points early, scoring a touchdown within the first five minutes of the game.
After that, Chryst said his coaches made the appropriate adjustments, and so did his players. The Pitt defense did not give up another touchdown the rest of the game.
“I thought defensively we did some great things,” Chryst said. “I loved the way they played.”
Chryst said the Orange’s defense also deserved a nod. They forced a fumble by Pitt’s Drew Carswell, which was picked up by Syracuse’s Dyshawn Davis and returned 52 yards for their second touchdown.
Syracuse also did not have any trouble stopping Pitt running back Ray Graham, holding him to only 57 yards on 24 attempts. This was a new development for the Orange, who had difficulty stopping the run in their previous four games.
Chryst said that several factors could have been responsible for the hiccup in the run game.
“It depends on what is happening around you,” Chryst said. “How many possessions are you up or down? What are the problems? Why is the running game not hitting – is it schematically, is it numbers, is it a guy missing his block? I think there are a lot of things that go into it, mostly though the point in the game and the score probably as much as anything.”
Another factor was limited carries for freshman Rushel Shell, who played sparingly because of back issues.
“No one person is responsible for the loss or no one unit is responsible for the loss,” Chryst said. “That’s the great thing about playing on a team. We’ve got to grow, and we’ve got to eliminate some of the mistakes. We care about this and when you care and something happens, you want to learn from it, you want to take away from it.”