Syracuse Squeezes Pittsburgh

It's best to keep Donovan McNabb happy. Pittsburgh made a huge mistake against Syracuse -- the Panthers got McNabb upset.

McNabb threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as the No. 17 Orangemen (5-2, 3-0 Big East) rallied from an early deficit and won 45-28 on Saturday to stay atop the conference standings.

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  • The Panthers (2-5, 0-3) gained a quick advantage at the game's outset. McNabb, who entered the game with a 70 percent completion percentage, missed badly on his first two throws, Syracuse was forced to punt, and Pittsburgh blocked the kick for a safety.

    The Orangemen were not surprised, just miffed.

    "We knew we were going to start out a little bit rusty because we hadn't played last week," said McNabb, who was 12-of-23 for 228 yards. "Just practicing really wasn't going to get it done. When we came in, our heads were sort of on different wavelengths, but once we decided to get things done, bear down, we got it done."

    Not until after the ensuing kick. Junior college transfer Matt O'Connor, starting in place of Matt Lytle, hit Terry Murphy with a 28-yard touchdown pass and the Panthers led 9-0 less than five minutes into the game.

    "I was pretty disgusted with what was happening in the game," said McNabb, who also rushed for 98 yards on 17 carries. "We were down, and I just knew in my mind that it wasn't us. We weren't clicking at all. Our running game wasn't effective. Our passing game was sort of shaky. But I continuously told the offensive linemen and the receivers, `Hey, I'm oing to get you guys in the end zone.'"

    And he did, especially at the game's most crucial juncture.

    After a 10-point flurry had moved the Panthers within 31-28 early in the fourth, McNabb drove the Orangemen 65 yards in 11 plays.

    Donovan McNabb
    Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb turns up field Saturday on a keeper against Pittsburgh. (AP)

    The drive was vintage McNabb. On a third-and-11, he gained 13 yards, then took advantage of a pass interference call against Hank Poteat on a third-and-9 play and scored on a 5-yard run with 9:17 left.

    "Today, there were three or four which were literally great plays on his own," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "He's just determined he's going to get the first down. That's the sign of a great quarterback in my mind -- the guy who's a big-time competitor and is going to compete on every snap. That's what you saw today."

    Poteat's woes continued when he fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Syracuse recovered at the 14. Kevin Johnson scored on a reverse on the next play to give Syracuse two touchdowns in 18 seconds and put the game out of reach.

    "We had the momentum at the time," said Johnson, who led the Orangemen with five receptions for 77 yards. "It was a great call."

    And another disappointment for Pittsburgh, which was coming off an embarrassing loss to Rutgers two weeks ago.

    "I don't know how many points we gave them on turnovers, but it was way too many," Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said. "McNabb is so in control of the game all the time. McNabb stepped up when we stopped the other guys."

    Like in the third quarter, when McNabb hit Maurice Jackson with a 54-yard TD pass to give Syracuse a 31-18 lead.

    But Lytle, who entered the game in the second quarter, rallied the Panthers. He was 18-for-29 for 221 yards and was not intercepted.

    After Chris Ferencik hit a 20-yard field goal for Pittsburgh, Lytle completed a 15-yard TD pass to Latef Grim 47 seconds into the fourth quarter to pull the Panthers within 31-28.

    "Coach was making a point to light a fire under my rear end," said Lytle, who was intercepted three times by Rutgers in that disastrous 25-21 loss at home. "It worked. I didn't want to be on the sideline, I wanted to be in there and make the most of my chance."

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