If Pitt's first four games this season were a case of two extremes, the Panthers' 14-13 loss against Syracuse Friday night at Carrier Dome might be the best indicator of where Pitt is nearly midway through the season.
The Panthers took a step back from impressive wins against Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb, but seemed to be miles better than they were in their 0-2 start.
As has been the case most of the season, Pitt's wounds often were self-inflicted and usually came at the worst time. The Panthers committed fewer penalties than it did in either win, but some of them took away valuable scoring chances.
"We shot ourselves in the foot. It's the same story all the time," receiver Devin Street said. "We have to come out and play the way we did against Virginia Tech, against Gardner-Webb. We have to play together and not shoot ourselves in the foot. We're our own worst enemy right now."
For the first time since the Cincinnati game, Pitt failed to control the line of scrimmage. It was a long game for an offensive line that allowed quarterback Tino Sunseri to be sacked five times and hurried countless more.
Late in the fourth quarter, the line allowed key sacks on back-to-back drives that prevented them from attempting a go-ahead field goal. On the second, Syracuse cornerback Brandon Reddish came in untouched on a corner blitz from the right and slammed Sunseri to the turf.
"They've run it before," center Ryan Turnley said. "It's not one of their favorite blitzes, but they ran it there, and it was effective. It's not that they caught us by surprise. It was just more of a scheme thing. They called it, and it worked."
For the first time this season, Pitt also was unable to run the ball effectively or consistently. Ray Graham gained 64 yards on 24 carries, but the Panthers finished with 27 net yards from 37 rushing attempts.
In the previous two games, the rushing attack averaged 241.5 yards per game, but the Orange forced Pitt coach Paul Chryst to find another way to move the ball.
"We certainly didn't want to abandon [the running game], but we felt like we could get some things," Chryst said. "I don't want to say you change it, but you figure out ways you can do it, and I thought they did a heck of a job playing the run."
Chryst and his players were effusive in their praise for Syracuse after the game, but the Panthers also realized they must correct their mistakes before regaining the form they showed in the two wins.
"We could definitely clean some things up," cornerback K'Waun Williams said. "Right now, we're basically facing two opponents, ourselves [and the other team]. We've just got to keep playing together and put this whole thing together."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @SWernerPG.