The Worst: Syracuse vs Pitt


Welcome to the Worst, where we showcase the less than pleasant parts of college football. This is a column about inflicting pain and bringing up bad college football memories. It could be the worst in any number of ways. Check out the previous posts here…if you dare!

Ahhh yes, Syracuse and Pittsburgh! Unlike last week’s edition, we have a rivalry that dates back a century, to the time when Pop Warner roamed the sidelines. Both teams have faced each other year-after-year since the 1950s.

For the sake of this column, we’ll focus on games from this century. I should point out some might consider these games entertaining. However, there’s enough pain for each side. Let’s dive in, shall we?

5. 2000- Syracuse wins with an OT touchdown to hand Pitt its first loss of the season

The Pittsburgh Panthers got off to a solid start in 2000, winning their first four games, even getting a 12-0 shutout win over Penn State.

What awaited Pitt next was a trip to the Carrier Dome to play the Syracuse Orangemen (as they were known until 2004).

The two teams went into the overtime tied at 17. How bad was it? Both field goal kickers missed an opportunity to score points in the first overtime.

To go-ahead score came on a touchdown pass from a running for his life Troy Nunes to David Tyree (yes THAT David Tyree). The Panthers had a chance to tie, but turned it over on downs, giving the Orangemen the victory.

The loss led to a rough stretch for Pittsburgh as they would lose three of their next four games, including a close one to then-second ranked Virginia Tech two weeks later. Pitt would win its remaining two games to become bowl eligible, eventually losing to Iowa State in the Insight Bowl.

4. 2014- Syracuse Offense Struggles in A Loss

The 2014 Syracuse season started out with wins over Villanova and Central Michigan, then went 1-9 in the remaining 10 games. The only other win during that time came against Wake Forest.

Syracuse’s matchup against Pittsburgh came late in the season. Bowl eligibility seemed out of reach. Their reward would be a late November game in Pittsburgh, which seems cruel.

The Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 lead at the half. The only points for Syracuse came on a one-yard touchdown run by Ron Thompson early in the third quarter. After that, it was all Pitt.

The Orange (this will be jumping back and forth) struggled offensively, with 255 total yards and three turnovers.

It was the third time that season Syracuse finished a game with single-digit points. It would happen once more next week against Boston College.

What made the season strange for Syracuse that season was how good their defense was. They only allowed 24 points per game and had close games with Clemson and NC State. Their defense kept them in close games. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t help that season.

3. 2009- Pittsburgh Scores 37 Unanswered to Defeat Syracuse

In 2009, the Pittsburgh Panthers were pretty good. They were climbing the rankings and went into the match-up with Syracuse having just one loss.

Syracuse meanwhile faced the likelihood of missing out on a bowl game at 3-5, after losing at home to Cincinnati.

The Orange jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter. It would be their only lead for the rest of the game.

Pitt tied the game just minutes later and would take the lead in the second quarter. The Panthers scored 37 consecutive points before Syracuse would score once more in the final minutes.

Starting quarterback and former Duke guard Greg Paulus threw two picks and had 120 yards of passing for Syracuse. Ryan Nassib also had an interception in the game.

Meanwhile, Dion Lewis had more scrimmage yards (152) than Syracuse had passing (141).

Pitt would win the next week over Notre Dame to get to 9-1. They would lose heartbreakers in back-to-back weeks versus West Virginia and Cincinnati. They would defeat North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

The Orange would finish the season with a 4-8 record.

2. 2011- Syracuse Turns It Over Six Times in Loss to Pittsburgh

Both teams came into this game needing a win to be bowl eligible. Unfortunately, only one would get that win and it would be Pittsburgh.

This wasn’t a pretty game. The Orange finished with six turnovers in the game, including four fumbles. The last fumble, picked up by Antwuan Reed, went in for a touchdown during the final minutes to ice the game.

Neither team had a strong offensive night as both finished with less than 350 total yards. In fact, Pittsburgh had just 74 rushing yards on 35 carries. That rushing total was also fewer yards than the ones Syracuse picked up through penalties (10 for 95).

The good news for Pitt was that they would be bowl eligible under first-year head coach Todd Graham. That must have been a positive sign for the program looking to get back on…oh right!

Less than two weeks later, Graham left Pittsburgh to take over as the new head coach at Arizona State.

I could go on and on about this, but we still have one more game on this list.

1. 2001- Pitt Turns It Over Five Times in Blowout Loss to Syracuse

The last time Syracuse won 10 games in a season was 2001. Coincidentally, it was also the last time Syracuse defeated Pitt 42-10 in a blowout.

It didn’t start out a blowout. Pitt had a 10-7 lead going into halftime. However, Syracuse scored quickly, getting two touchdowns in a 90-second span, including a Will Hunter pick six.

In total, Pittsburgh turned the ball over five times. Three of those turnovers came on interceptions. David Priestley had 120 yards passing and two interceptions in the game for Pitt.

Syracuse used the ground game to get the job done, rushing for 172 yards, 113 of which came courtesy of James Mungro.

The Orangemen had a problem with penalties in the win over Pitt. They had 11 penalties for 84 yards.

Pitt’s loss dropped them to 1-4, they would lose the next week and risk missing out on a bowl. The Panthers recovered though, winning six straight, including the Tangerine Bowl, to finish 7-5.

What will happen this weekend remains to be seen. Obviously it would be awesome to see these teams try and score a lot of points like last year. However, it could be a game that tops the five listed on here.

(Key stats courtesy of Sports Reference)