Special Teams The Key To Pitt’s 23-20 Win At Syracuse, No. 25 Panthers Now 6-1


At times, it was not pretty.  It felt like nearly every play was reviewed, and each time, the call did not go in Pitt’s favor.

Pat Narduzzi could be seen counting the number of officiating mistakes on the sidelines, and the game today felt like one in which Pitt typically loses.

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But this Pitt team is different.

The Panthers are persistent, scrappy, hard-nosed, relentless, and display a phenomenal amount of character.  A character which resembles their new head coach and staff.

How could you not like what you are seeing with this Pitt coaching staff? Narduzzi has his team believing in itself.  There is no more “pitt-ing.”

This afternoon, Pitt trailed on the road 17-13 going into the fourth quarter.  Following a huge interception by senior cornerback Lafayette Pitts, the Panthers took advantage of the turnover and Qadree Ollison scored a touchdown from 1 yard out to give Pitt the 20-17 advantage.

Syracuse countered with a field goal to tie it at 20.

With 9:20 left to play, the No. 25 Panthers never gave the ball back to Syracuse.  Pitt put together a 19-play, 89 yard drive, which was capped off by a Chris Blewitt game-winning field goal to make it 23-20 as time expired.

The key play of the game occurred with 4:30 left on the clock, and Pitt faced a 4th down and 7 at their own 48 yard line.  Nobody in the Carrier Dome expected a fake punt, but Narduzzi had a play in store.  Punter Ryan Winslow completed a 12-yard pass to linebacker Matt Galambos to get the first down and take the life out of the home crowd.  The fake punt was clearly a very risky gamble that paid off for the Panthers.

Qadree Ollison continued to run downhill, setting up an easy field goal for Blewitt, compared to the 56-yarder he made last week at Georgia Tech.

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The fake punt play may be Pitt’s best play of the season thus far, and it shows a big difference compared to the 4th down and 1 that Pitt did not attempt to go for against Iowa.  Pitt now improves to 6-1 with a 4-0 record for first place in the ACC Coastal Division, whereas Syracuse drops to 3-4, 1-2 in the ACC.  The Victory Lights are on again in Oakland, and I fully expect this Thursday night’s home game against 6-1 North Carolina to be an amazing atmosphere.

If you win, the fans will come.  The fans will be at Heinz Field Thursday night for a battle for first place in the ACC Coastal.  The place should be rocking.  I cannot wait.

Pitt settled for a field goal on its opening drive, and then Syracuse scored a touchdown on only two offensive plays.  The Pitt defense uncharacteristically missed tackles and seemed a little slow to start.

An Ishmael touchdown gave Syracuse a 17-10 lead with only 26 seconds left before halftime; a Ryan Norton personal foul gave Pitt great field position and allowed them to convert on a 30 yard field goal to cut the deficit to 17-13.

As we had seen in other games, the coaching staff has made impressive adjustments at halftime and this game was not any different.  Pitt held Syracuse to only 3 points in the second half.

For Pitt, junior quarterback Nathan Peterman continues to effectively manage the game and not make any mistakes.  He completed 19 of 25 passes for 189 yards, while Tyler Boyd hauled in 12 catches for 93 yards.  Redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison finished with 22 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns.

Ollison stated, “We believe that the 4th quarter is our quarter. That’s where games are won, that’s where championships are won.”

Syracuse true freshman quarterback Eric Dungey played very well before being blasted by linebacker Nicholas Grigsby in the third quarter.  Honestly, I am shocked that he returned, and he clearly was not the same player as in the first half, as he tossed two interceptions.  Dungey finished 21 for 30 for 210 yards, and he’ll be a tough quarterback to play the next few seasons.  Sophomore receiver Steve Ishmael hauled in 7 catches for a career-high 114 yards and a score.

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With the First Pick

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  • The Panthers amassed 427 yards and 24 first downs to 353 yards and 16 first downs from the Orange.  Again, Pitt won the turnover battle and came up with significant plays on special teams.

    Pitt is now 5-1 in games that are decided by a single score, and the Panthers are off to their best start in six seasons.  Narduzzi has quickly brought a winning mentality to a team that has been accustomed to just falling short.

    Pitt has now won four of five games on the road, with their only loss coming from a game-winning 57 yard field goal at Iowa, who is 7-0 and ranked No. 12.  Pitt only has one more game on the road, which will be at No. 23 Duke on November 14th.  That could be a huge battle for first as well.

    The fourth quarter comeback was the first for Pitt since their 19-17 victory over North Carolina in the Car Care Bowl back in 2009.

    Blewitt has now won back-to-back games for Pitt.  He indicated that the key today was a little easier than last week’s 56 yarder.

    The ACC will have five teams with one loss or fewer after Week 8, and this is the most of any FBS conference.  The ACC does not look as weak as others have deemed it.


    Pitt will now host 4 of its last 5 games, as the first opponent will be 6-1 North Carolina on Thursday night. If Pitt can beat both North Carolina and Duke, it appears that the Panthers could be destined to get into the ACC Championship Game against Clemson or Florida State.

    One game at a time, but Pitt fans should feel excited.

    Next: Steelers: Previewing The Chiefs Match-Up

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