Kenny Pickett passed for two touchdowns and ran for another to lead No. 25 Pittsburgh to a 21-10 victory over visiting Syracuse in Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday at Heinz Field.
The Orange surrendered seven sacks for the second straight week to open the season, and fell to 0-2 overall and in the ACC.
Syracuse will host Georgia Tech in its home opener at noon next Saturday where fans will not be present.
“0-2 better be motivation enough,” SU head coach Dino Babers said afterward.
Syracuse backup quarterback Rex Culpepper threw a 69-yard scoring pass to Taj Harris after briefly replacing starter Tommy DeVito, who left early in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury after being sacked. DeVito returned at the outset of the third quarter and finished with just 32 yards on 9 of 15 passing with one interception before departing for good with approximately nine minutes remaining.
Culpepper was 4 of 9 passing for 88 yards for the Orange, who were outgained 342-171 and had just 10 first downs to Pitt’s 23.
“We’re going to evaluate the tape based off situation and what’s going on, and then when it comes to any of our family members, we’re always going to make the decision that is best for the family,” Babers said when asked of a potential change at starting QB.
“Both of those guys are in it to win it,” he added. “It’s not just those two guys, I know the media always like go straight to the quarterback, but there are a lot of things that are going on out there.”
Jordan Addison and Jared Wayne caught scoring passes from Pickett, who completed 25 of 36 passes for 215 yards. Pickett raised his career yardage total to 6,068 yards to become the seventh quarterback in school history to top 6,000 career passing yards.
Rashad Weaver recorded two of Pitt’s seven sacks, and Paris Ford nabbed an interception for the Panthers (2-0, 1-0 ACC). Pittsburgh has won 16 of the past 19 meetings with the Orange.
Mikel Jones recorded an interception for Syracuse.
Babers didn’t provide details on DeVito’s injury after the game. The redshirt junior QB was sacked 44 times last year and has taken 14 through the first two games.
“He’s one of the strongest cats we have, he has New Jersey arms on him, he’s more than strong enough,” Babers said. “But the big thing is this, that’s coaching, too. We need to find a way to make sure that either we can protect him or that he’s capable of protecting himself, and then if he doesn’t do that then we have to do other things. But we’re not going to get that young man hurt.”
He added: “At this stage of the game we’re going to set the record (for sacks allowed), and I don’t plan on setting the record in 2020.”
The Panthers led by four at halftime and expanded the lead when Pickett tossed a 17-yard scoring pass to Wayne to make it 21-10 with 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
Syracuse was unable to mount a comeback challenge in the second half as it totaled just 52 yards.
“Our defense has just been playing outstanding,” Babers said. “If you cut off the fourth quarter, when you start adding up how long they’ve been out there and they’ve probably been out there too doggone long.”
He continued: “You would like to think that if we can get something going on offense and special teams that we’re going to have a defense that we can really be proud of when the smoke all clears. But obviously, we need to make some changes and get the ball moving in the right direction.”
Pittsburgh had a 16-5 edge in first downs in the first half but led just 14-10 at the break.
A Panthers’ turnover led to Syracuse’s Andre Szmyt kicking a 26-yard field goal with 6:08 left in the first quarter. Less than two minutes later, Pitt answered as Pickett teamed up with Addison on a 27-yard scoring pass for a 7-3 lead.
DeVito departed early in the second quarter after Phil Campbell III and Calijah Kancey combined for a sack. Two plays later, Culpepper tossed the long touchdown throw to Harris to give the Orange a 10-7 advantage with 10:33 left in the half.
The Panthers regained the lead at 14-10 on Pickett’s 1-yard quarterback sneak with 5:06 left.
“From Week 1 to Week 2, I feel like we did a little better, the scoring margin wasn’t that big, and that’s just something we have to keep working on, fight,” SU linebacker Mikel Jones said. “I feel like a lot of people had more fight in them than last week.”