SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Two days after he apologized to the Syracuse fans in the aftermath of a humbling home loss to Pittsburgh, Orange head coach Doug Marrone made no apologies for his team.
Watching tape of the 45-14 setback in a game the experts had considered a toss-up was enough to convince Marrone the sky isn't falling.
"Everyone knows that Pitt beat us soundly, but our kids have played extremely hard," Marrone said Monday. "We didn't give up on the game and put some people in there at the end. We were fighting till the end.
"We all know that (when) a game gets out of hand, as a coach you start looking for who's giving me the effort and who's not. And you know what? I didn't even think about doing that," said Marrone, whose two-year record at his alma mater is 8-10. "I did not see a lack of effort from anyone that was on that field — and that's a credit to the players.
"We have to bounce back. Everyone's just got to put their nose to the grindstone."
At the midpoint of its season, Syracuse's goal of playing in the postseason remains intact. The Orange are 4-2, 1-1 in the Big East. The schedule remains daunting and includes road games at West Virginia, Cincinnati and Rutgers in the next four weeks.
"We have a tough schedule ahead of us," Marrone said. "But we understand that we need to get better every day. How we continue on and how we practice is going to be key for this team. We've got a long way to go, a lot of time to practice, a lot of time to get better each and every day. We're not looking at it any other way. We're not looking at it as, 'Things are bad. The sky is falling down.' I don't feel that way, and I don't think the players do."
Against the Panthers (3-3, 1-0), who snapped Syracuse's three-game winning streak, the sky kind of fell on the Orange right away. Devin Street caught a flanker screen from quarterback Tino Sunseri on Pitt's first play from scrimmage, dodged a would-be tackler who was blocked by a teammate, and outran Syracuse defender Da'mon Merkerson for a 79-yard score.
The Orange played catchup nicely, tying the game 7-7 midway through the first quarter with an impressive drive keyed by Alec Lemon's diving 41-yard reception. Then the Panthers, whose difficult nonconference schedule included losses at Utah and Notre Dame and a setback at home to Miami, responded with four straight touchdowns to send the hometown faithful streaming for the Carrier Dome exits.
Pittsburgh, which did not commit a turnover, returned an interception for a touchdown in the third to thwart any chance of a Syracuse comeback and scored its final touchdown after a fumble recovery. The Panthers also grounded the Orange run game, which entered averaging nearly 164 yards. Delone Carter, who was averaging 104, finished with 38, all but one before halftime as the Orange fell far behind and tried to rally by passing.
Pitt punter and place-kicker, Dan Hutchins, was named conference special teams player of the week on Monday for his performance against Syracuse. He scored nine points and averaged 50 yards on five punts, two of them downed inside the Syracuse 20. The Pitt defense also had one sack, five pass breakups, and three quarterback hurries, one of which led to Ricky Gary's 80-yard interception return.
"After a game like that and you get beat that soundly, it's really overall," Marrone said. "To pick one group out or one thing would really be unfair."
"There's a lot of disappointment, throughout the locker room, the community, I think everywhere," tailback Antwon Bailey said after Saturday's loss. "It's definitely not time to panic. We have a lot of noise to make. You better believe we'll be ready."