Syracuse fails to defend the run in 44-37 overtime loss at Pitt

first_img Comments PITTSBURGH — Dino Babers strode onto the field near the 10-yard line, beckoning his defense over for the timeout he just took.Babers waved off the rest of the bench and assistants trying to join the huddle as all 11 defenders knelt in front of him. He shed his headset, then his orange, block “S” adorned hat, looked around at the 11 tired faces staring back, bent down and rested his hands on his knees. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textPittsburgh had covered 67 yards in the previous 2:39 without throwing a single pass. Guarding their end zone and a seven-point lead from their 8-yard line in the fourth quarter, Babers sensed his defense needed a rest. “It was kind of like a deja vu thing,” Babers said, referencing SU’s loss to Clemson a week ago and his rationale for the timeout. “If we keep them out, obviously we’re not going to overtime.”The 20-second pep talk that accompanied it — Babers kept private what he said — was inevitable. Same for the outcome of the ensuing plays.Two snaps later, the Panthers’ (3-3, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) Darrin Hall took a wildcat run untouched for the game-tying touchdown in an eventual 44-37 win over Syracuse (4-2, 1-2) in overtime at Heinz Field. Hall and his backfield counterpart, Qadree Ollison, ran roughshod over the Orange on Saturday, combining for 299 net yards and three touchdowns. For the second-straight week, Syracuse lost in large part due to an inability to defend against the run.A week ago, No. 3 Clemson squeaked by Syracuse, 27-23, mostly because of Travis Etienne’s 203 yards and three touchdowns rushing. After the loss, players and Babers mentioned poor tackling as being at the root of the Orange’s ire. They knew when they played Pitt in a week, the same issues could haunt them.With an early 14-0 lead, Syracuse quickly approached potential blowout territory. The offense cruised down the field. Alton Robinson had forced a fumble. Then, on the Panther’s second series, out of an I-formation, Kenny Pickett handed to Ollison. Following his fullback, Ollison took the left-side handoff 69 yards to the end zone. Linebackers Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner got eliminated from the play in the box by well-executed blocks. Freshman free safety Andre Cisco should’ve forced Ollison out of bounds, but he took a bad angle and got run past. Chris Fredrick didn’t disengage from a block. All Scoop Bradshaw could do, pursuing from the opposite side of the field, was dive at Ollison’s ankles.“When the ball breaks to the secondary, we need DBs and we need safeties to make tackles. Just get ‘em down. Just get ‘em down,” Babers said. “Now on the flip side of that — our linebackers — they (the Pitt running backs) shouldn’t get to the secondary. Our linebackers should make those plays.”On Hall’s touchdown after Babers’ pep talk, the Panthers went to a wildcat look, putting Hall in the shotgun and flexing Pickett out wide. Syracuse, Babers said, had not prepared for that look. Hall’s touchdown marked one of the handful of times Pitt went to the wildcat, and the third time, it worked. The Panthers never passed out of the look, and Hall kept the ball on all three plays. Even on Hall’s touchdown, a play removed from a timeout, Guthrie and safety Evan Foster bit on the motion man, got sealed off by an offensive lineman and watched as Hall tied the game at 34. “It’s not like that guy is going to throw the football,” Babers said. “That’s pure run, 100 percent. “We need to be able to stop that.”After back-to-back weeks of getting shredded on the ground, Syracuse knows it’s an area teams will look to exploit. Against Clemson and Pittsburgh alone, the Orange has given up 558 yards and six touchdowns against the run, to the tune of 5.6 yards per carry.With that visible weakness, the Orange can expect to be attacked on the ground moving ahead, and players know that.“It’s shown that that’s been getting the better of us,” said SU defensive lineman Kendall Coleman. “I would expect a lot of teams to come out and try to run against us.”Pat Narduzzi, Pitt’s head coach, recognized the same weakness on Saturday. “I wanted our running backs to win it for us,” he said postgame. “I wanted our offensive line to win it for us.”They did.In the overtime period, Pittsburgh got the ball first. To that point in the game, Pickett had been serviceable, completing 11-of-20 for 137 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But Narduzzi never put it in his hands. For five-straight plays, Pickett turned and handed it off, and for five-straight plays, Pitt moved forward, eventually ending up in the end zone.Syracuse knew it was coming and it didn’t matter.“I’m not going to talk bad about my guys,” Babers said, “but it’s a matter of getting people down.” Published on October 6, 2018 at 7:24 pm Contact Andrew: [email protected] | @A_E_Graham Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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