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October 18, 2010

Syracuse win much-needed for Pitt

Pitt's 45-14 win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Saturday didn't change the fact that the Panthers are .500 after six games in 2010. The victory didn't undo Pitt's near-miss defeats at Utah or Notre Dame. And it didn't lessen the demoralizing effects of the Panthers' 31-3 blowout loss to Miami.

But the victory against the Orange did accomplish something for the Panthers:

It created some positive momentum for a program desperately in need of just that.

"There's some momentum," sophomore running back Dion Lewis said after the game. "Everybody says that the best thing when you're coming off a tough loss is to get a big win."

And a big win was exactly what Pitt got. The Panthers scored 45 points for just the seventh time in Dave Wannstedt's tenure as head coach, and the 31-point advantage ranks among the most lopsided victories of the last five years.

Pitt dominated Syracuse on both sides of the ball from the opening whistle, putting together its most complete game of the season after five games of inconsistent play.

"It's huge for us," redshirt sophomore receiver Mike Shanahan said. "We know what we are capable of, and that's why it was so frustrating earlier: we couldn't put it all together. But this is a huge confidence boost because we put everything together."

Pitt entered the Syracuse game reeling from a 23-17 loss at Notre Dame last Saturday, but in the big picture, the Panthers were reeling from more than just a disappointing loss in an historic venue. The 2010 season thus far has been a jarring one for the Pitt football program: a run of off-field issues began in July and involved players ranging from starters and reserves to true freshmen and walk-ons.

Added to the off-field problems was the compounding nature of the team's three losses - two of which were within reach, and the third was an absolute thrashing - and result was restlessness within the fan base. Naturally, that restlessness led to questions about the direction of the program and the long-term success-probability of Wannstedt.

Beating Syracuse convincingly might not undo those off-field issues; it doesn't change Pitt's three losses; and it won't permanently quash questions about Wannstedt.

But for the first time since the spring, the Pitt football program has some positive energy.

"I feel like we have it going now," senior cornerback Ricky Gary said. "I feel like guys really understand what it takes to win on a big stage, and I feel like guys are coming out and working hard everyday. I feel like we're on the rise. We're going up."

"Definitely," Shanahan agreed. "We knew that coming in: this was probably the biggest game of our season, so getting the win was huge."

With the win, Pitt is 3-3 overall but 1-0 in the Big East. The Panthers will face conference opponents the rest of the way, beginning with back-to-back home games against Rutgers and Louisville before heading back on the road to take on Connecticut and South Florida. The season will conclude with a home game against West Virginia and a road trip to Cincinnati.

"It's kind of a new season, you know what I mean?" Wannstedt said after the Syracuse game. "You hate to say that, and I said last week that you have to not make the same mistakes and (you can't) pretend like the first five games didn't happen. But it is a new season; it's the conference.

"Anytime you win a conference game on the road, it's a good win. And when you come up here and play in this atmosphere and play a 4-1 team that's playing with a lot of confidence, it's really a good win."





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