PITTSBURGH (AP)Rodney Hammond ran for a career-high 124 yards and a touchdown while filling in for injured Israel Abanikanda and Pittsburgh shut down No. 22 Syracuse 17-9 on Saturday to end a two-game losing streak.
The Panthers (5-4, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) relied heavily on Hammond and a defense that kept Orange freshman quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson in check in his first career start. Pitt sacked Del Rio-Wilson six times and limited the Orange (6-3, 3-2) to 145 total yards in beating Syracuse for the 18th time in the past 21 meetings of the longtime rivals.
C’Bo Flemister added a short touchdown run for Pitt as the defending ACC champions righted themselves after three losses in four games essentially ended any shot of them earning a second straight trip to the conference title game.
Though quarterback Kedon Slovis failed to throw a touchdown pass for a fourth straight game – the USC transfer completed 16 of 23 for 178 yards and an ill-advised heave into the end zone in the first quarter that ended as an interception – Hammond and Flemister made up for it while doing a pretty solid Abanikanda impersonation.
Hammond began the season expecting to split carries with Abanikanda only to get hurt during the season opener against West Virginia. Abanikanda took firm hold of the starting job in Hammond’s absence, becoming the ACC’s leading rusher in the process.
Fully healthy now, Hammond showcased the power that quickly endeared him to the coaching staff. He bulled over from 6 yards out in the first quarter to give the Panthers a 7-3 lead. The score was the first by a Pitt player other than Abanikanda since a loss to Georgia Tech on Oct. 1.
Flemister added a 1-yard dive late in the third quarter that put Pitt up 17-6, a margin the Orange found far too daunting.
Del Rio-Wilson, starting over injured Garrett Shrader, hit just 8 of 23 passes for 120 yards. He faced near-constant pressure from the Panthers and during the rare occasions he had time, he struggled with accuracy.
Andre Szmyt hit three field goals for the Orange, including a 49-yarder with 4:52 left that made it a one-score game. Syracuse got the ball back with 1:40 remaining, but Del-Rio Wilson was sacked for a safety on the first play to seal it.
Syracuse: So much for that impressive start. The Orange have returned to earth over the past three weeks. The sometimes fortunate bounces that allowed Syracuse to race to 6-0 have largely evaporated. The Orange got a break early in the fourth quarter thanks to a 2-yard punt by the Panthers but failed to turn great field position into any points when they badly needed to swing momentum.
Pitt: The defense the Panthers expected to have much of the season – a defense that has been spotty at critical times of late – showed up against Syracuse. The Orange wanted to run the ball to take some of the heat off Del Rio-Wilson. They couldn’t. If this kind of performance is replicable, the Panthers could put together a hot streak to finish a somewhat disappointing season.
The Orange’s four-week run in the rankings is almost certainly over. The voters didn’t ding Syracuse much for hanging tough in a road loss to Clemson or a home setback against Notre Dame. They figure to be less forgiving this time.
Syracuse: hosts Florida State next Saturday night.
Pitt: travels to Virginia next Saturday.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://bit.ly/3pqZVaF