Syracuse Focusing On Pitt And Elusive 6th Victory

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Syracuse has done a good job putting the ugliness of this transition season in the rearview mirror. It wasn’t a problem early in the season and definitely shouldn’t be now with the season on the line.

The Orange started their first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference with losses to Penn State and Northwestern of the Big Ten, then came back with resounding victories over Wagner and Tulane. And a week after losing 49-14 at home to then-No. 3 Clemson, Syracuse beat North Carolina State on the road.

Now, the Orange (5-5, 3-3 ACC) have to forget about Saturday’s 59-3 shellacking at No. 2 Florida State.

Coach Scott Shafer already has and thinks his team has, too, as they begin to prepare for a game against Pittsburgh (5-5, 2-4) on Saturday in the Carrier Dome.

The winner gets that sixth win necessary to play in the postseason. The loser is left to fret one more week.

“We’re full speed ahead preparing for the Pitt Panthers,” Shafer said Tuesday. “Our biggest challenge is focusing in on the next game, and I’ve been pleased with the way the guys have done that so far.”

Shafer’s approach is to bring the Orange in on Sunday to review what happened, then give them a day off somewhere during the week as per NCAA rules.

“Win, lose or draw, I like to turn the next page as quick as possible,” Shafer said. “My coaches, me included, when we go to bed Sunday night, as best as we can, I’d like to be able to be focusing in … on the next opponent. Put it to bed as quick as possible.”

At least this one is oh-so-forgettable.

Florida State (10-0, 8-0) led 28-0 in the first quarter and held Syracuse scoreless until late in the fourth as the defense dominated. Syracuse managed just 68 yards on 30 plays in the first half while the Seminoles’ offense had 374 yards on 32 plays.

With Jameis Winston at the helm, the Seminoles are second in the BCS standings and likely three victories away – they play Idaho, Florida and the ACC championship game in the next three weeks – from securing a spot in the BCS championship game.

“That team, in general, that we just played, it’s the best football team I’ve seen or coached against live in my whole career,” Shafer said.

Shafer was dealt a difficult hand when Doug Marrone abruptly left in January to coach the Buffalo Bills after resurrecting his alma mater in an impressive four-year run. The first-year coach has done an admirable job, hiring virtually an entire new staff and figuring out who to play as injuries have mounted.

“Everyone’s banged-up and they’re fighting the grind,” Shafer said. “That’s football. At this point in time, we’re fighting the good fight. That’s what we signed up for as football players.”

That the Orange are one win away from playing in a bowl game for the third time in four years most likely is a welcome surprise to the fans. The team has two chances to get it done – Saturday or at home next week against Boston College.

Analysis of the season’s decisions won’t come until after the final gun of the final game.

“(The season) never follows the blueprint unless you’re just vastly more talented than everyone else you play, so we’ve adjusted as we’ve gone,” Shafer said. “The offseason is the time to look at the big, big picture. If you get in that process of over-evaluating the past, whether it was a week ago or five weeks ago, you get caught in a little bit of a trap because then you’re not focusing on the next game and the next guy in.”

Meanwhile, sophomore defensive back Julian Whigham has returned to Syracuse, where his health will continue to be monitored by team physicians and medical staff. Whigham was hospitalized briefly after suffering a lung contusion and possible tearing of scar tissue from a prior surgical history for achalasia during the Florida State game. His status for the remainder of the season will be evaluated.

Shafer said freshman wideout Brisly Estime, who missed the Florida State game with a hand injury, would be evaluated later in the week.