|Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri is sacked by Syracuse's Brandon Sharpe during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Friday, Oct. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)|
Syracuse beat Pittsburgh 14-13 Friday night behind a ferocious defensive effort -- an effort that is being discounted in some circles. As Syracuse fans, we come from a decidedly pro-Syracuse point of view and we make no bones about that. We also understand perspectives on sites that cover other teams will be colored in a similar fashion - and that's equally fine.
However, we couldn't help but notice that more than a few people were eager to NOT give the Orange credit for a win they absolutely, positively earned.
The first example was from the Pitt Blog Cardiac Hill (a site that in general is really good). In a post that went up shortly after the game concluded, the author stated:
Now, I'm all for giving credit where it's due, but in all honesty, even the most ardent Syracuse supporters would know that the team did absolutely nothing in the second half to win the game.
I wholeheartedly disagree and I'll explain why below, however, in the aftermath of a tough loss I can see where the author is coming from.
However, it's not the only instance of this refrain being muttered, as the Post Standard's Bud Poliquin, a guy who lost his fastball sometime during the Jimmy Carter administration, offered this little nugget in yesterday's column:
Because SU won.
Oh, it won ugly. In fact, it may have won undeservedly. And, truth be known, it likely won because the other team simply wasn’t good enough to win, itself.
The esteemed Mr. Bud goes on to further elaborate:
And there is this to consider, too: Friday night’s Syracuse cause was helped by the Panthers, themselves, who – trailing by only a point – had a first down at the Orange 17-yard line with some six minutes to play. All it had to do was go conservative and manage the situation by running three times into the belly of the SU defense . . . by then kicking a field goal (dead center on dry ground against no wind) from, oh, 30 yards . . . and by then continuing to hold the Syracuse offense that had sputtered all night.
Look, Pitt didn't help itself by melting down twice in scoring range against the Orange, but the reason they melted down had a little something to do with the guys lining up across the ball from them. In fact it had everything to do Scott Shafer's unit.
Consider the facts:
* Pitt could not run the ball against the Orange. In the previous two weeks, the Panthers had racked up 254 yards and 229 yards respectively. Against Syracuse they managed 27.
* While Pitt managed to move the ball through the air, the Orange also sacked Tino Sunseri five times and limited them to 13 points. Pitt players weren't out there tackling themselves. They didn't make unforced errors or run the wrong way down the field. They were limited to 13 points because Syracuse stopped them. The last time I checked, playing defense was something that still counted when evaluating football games.
* To further break this down - the penalties that hurt Pitt were forced by the Orange. When you sack the opposing QB five times, the offensive line gets twitchy and jumps off-sides. Quarterbacks don't get called for intention grounding when they are standing alone untouched in the pocket. Those are penalties that are forced by an opponent.
* The other problem I have with Bud's assertion is that even if the Panthers had gone conservative and run it up the gut 3 times and played for a field goal:
A) There's no guarantee they don't lose 5 yards;
B) There's no guarantee their kicker, who'd already missed one field goal would make it; and
C) There was still a substantial amount of time on the clock. It wasn't a two minute situation where they were trying to run down the clock.
* Since Pitt was moving the ball efficiently through the air and going backwards on the ground, why wouldn't they throw it? A TD leads to a likely win, whereas a field goal means SU might only need 40 yards to get in range to kick a winner themselves. Pitt was playing to win and it made sense to put the ball in the air. When they did, the Orange rose to the occasion and got the better of the them. That's called earning a victory.
* Lastly, we seem to be glossing over the fact that the Orange offense, which really struggled all game, didn't struggle when it mattered most. It's not easy to chew up the last 5 minutes of game play when your opponent knows exactly what you're going to do - yet the Syracuse did just that. Ramming in down the Panther's throats with a running game that salted away the victory.
I don't know what Bud calls it, but when you beat another team physically in the trenches and make plays at the most crucial times of the game - to me, that's earning a win.
We are the first to call the team out when things go awry - and God knows they've gone awry plenty over the years - but let's give them credit when they've earned it. Friday night was one of those times.