PITTSBURGH (AP) — Kenny Pickett threw for two touchdowns and ran for another score, and No. 25 Pittsburgh’s defense did the rest as the Panthers beat Syracuse 21-10 on Saturday.
Pitt (2-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) limited the Orange (0-2, 0-2) to 171 total yards, 69 of them coming on backup quarterback Rex Culpepper’s second-quarter touchdown strike to a streaking Taj Harris. Otherwise, Syracuse mustered very little against the Panthers’ dominant front seven.
The Panthers sacked Culpepper and starter Tommy DeVito seven times, rarely letting the quarterbacks get comfortable. Still, Pitt was sloppy enough to let the Orange hang around well into the second half. The Panthers were flagged seven times for 70 yards, missed three field goals and lacked the precision they showed during an easy opening win against overmatched Austin Peay.
The game turned late in the third quarter when Pitt defensive back Paris Ford picked off a wayward screen pass by DeVito with the Orange in Panthers territory and only down four. Pickett drove Pitt 66 yards in eight plays, the final 17 on a touchdown pass over the middle to Jared Wayne.
Pickett finished 25 of 36 for 215 yards with the two scores and a third-quarter interception in Syracuse territory that cut short a promising drive. Freshman wide receiver Jordan Addison caught seven passes for 57 yards, including a 27-yard first-quarter touchdown courtesy of a pretty pass from Pickett that split two Orange defenders.
Syracuse: The Orange might have a brewing quarterback controversy on their hands. Culpepper, who beat testicular cancer in 2018, provided the only splashy play on his rainbow to Harris. DeVito spent most of the afternoon running for cover against one of the nation’s top defensive lines. DeVito completed 9 of 15 passes for 32 yards and a pick while Culpepper went 4 of 9 for 88 yards and the score.
Pitt: The defense appears to be every bit as good as coach Pat Narduzzi expected. The long pass to Harris was a hiccup in an otherwise dominant performance. The offense, however, remains a bit of a mystery. The running back situation remains unclear heading into the teeth of a schedule that figures to get considerably tougher as the weeks pass.
The Panthers probably did enough to justify sneaking into the rankings last week but don’t expect much upward movement until they have success against a team with a bit of a pedigree. No. 18 Louisville provides that opportunity next week.
Syracuse: The Orange welcome Georgia Tech to the Carrier Dome for the first time next Saturday when the Yellow Jackets visit.
Pitt: Continues a stretch of four straight home games to open the season when the Cardinals visit Heinz Field next Saturday. The former Big East rivals have met just once since Louisville joined the ACC, a 45-34 Panthers victory in 2015.
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