PITTSBURGH — Syracuse (3-8, 1-6 Atlantic Coast) fell to Pittsburgh, (5-6, 3-4) 30-7, at Heinz Field on Saturday evening. The Panthers kept their bowl hopes alive while the Orange sank further into irrelevancy, and here are three takeaways from the game.1. That’s the goalSyracuse has been trying to punch the ball into the end zone all season, and finally did so on Saturday. But instead of Prince-Tyson Gulley, Adonis Ameen-Moore or another one of SU’s five running backs, it was defensive tackle Ron Thompson clawing for the plane on third down.It was the Orange’s only touchdown of the game — bringing SU within 10 with 11:04 left in the third — and just the third time this season that a non-quarterback rushed for an SU score. Thompson’s plunge tied him with Gulley and Ameen-Moore with one on the season, and it was also the first time a non-quarterback rushed into the end zone since Syracuse’s season opener against Villanova on Aug. 29.At the onset of the season, the Orange’s five-running back rotation was a perceived offensive strength. But Thompson’s touchdown just about says it all.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text2. Silver liningSteve Ishmael.If there’s anything Syracuse can leave the Steel City with, it’s an encouraging performance in a game where encouraging performances were few and far between.Ishmael finished with 6 catches for 97 yards, providing a reliable target for freshman quarterback AJ Long. On Syracuse’s lone scoring drive, Ishmael caught an 11-yard pass on third down and then a 46-yard pass that ultimately set up Thompson’s touchdown run.In the fourth quarter, Ishmael caught a 15-yard pass but was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty right after. But that was just a small gaffe in an otherwise solid performance.3. Empty HeinzAside from a spirited singing of “Sweet Caroline” at the start of the fourth quarter, the Pittsburgh crowd was thin and quiet on Saturday. Taking weather, Thanksgiving and the magnitude of the game, you can’t blame the Panther faithful for not turning out in droves.But Pitt running back James Conner — before leaving the game with an injury — set an ACC single-season record and tied a longstanding Pittsburgh record with his 22nd rushing touchdown of the season. It was also senior day, and just about no one was around to see.Some of the largest cheers of the game came when Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt silenced Twitter and narrowly hit two field goals. And they were sarcastic.Pittsburgh has a great venue in Heinz Field, but that didn’t turn into any support with the less-than-excitable Orange in town. Comments Published on November 22, 2014 at 7:00 pm Facebook Twitter Google+
Photo by: GRANT MATTHEW/STUFF (Charlie Ngatai went down against the Brumbies). An ankle injury suffered in the 28-10 final-round win over the Brumbies in Hamilton last Saturday night kept the 26-year-old from travelling with the team, coach Dave Rennie revealed from South Africa on Tuesday evening.Ngatai went down early in the match, and while he played on, he was then pulled at halftime as a precaution, but in the end wasn’t taken on the long haul, with Rennie seeing it as too much of a gamble.”His ankle just wasn’t good enough,” Rennie said. We’re not in a position to take a risk, you’re only allowed to bring 25 guys away, so it gives us a couple of spare guys but we needed to make sure that if we got any illness or injury late in the week, that we had suitable cover.”With Alex Nankivell – who started at centre last weekend – not selected in the travelling party, the midfield will feature either Stephen Donald or Tim Nanai-Williams – having arrived a day later than his team-mates following his commitments with Samoa – partnering Anton Lienert-Brown, with Solomon Alaimalo providing cover from the wing.Dominic Bird (concussion) and Liam Messam (hamstring) weren’t risked last weekend, but are good to go, while the All Blacks trio of Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Lienert-Brown will be injected after a week off following a heavy workload in the test series against the British and Irish Lions.Rennie said it was quite noticeable that that trio were fizzing with energy during what duties they have undertaken so far.With a similar climate to back home there hasn’t been any challenges in terms of getting acclimatised to the weather, but it’s just overcoming the travel factor which is imperative and has the Chiefs easing into their week.”We haven’t done an enormous amount, to be honest,” Rennie said. “We left at 2am [Sunday, NZ time] and most guys probably only had an hour’s sleep prior to that and of course a big day of travel, and we arrived here around midnight Sunday night, local time [late morning Monday, NZ time].The fact the Chiefs had to trek the 11,765km to the Cape for this game is not so much the worry in terms of their title chances – they go into the fixture as favourites – it’s more the fact that if they make the semifinals it’s guaranteed to be all the way back in New Zealand – either against the Crusaders in Christchurch, or against the Highlanders in Dunedin.It mirrors the task they faced last year, when they went over and spanked the Stormers 60-21, before coming up well short against the eventual title-winning Hurricanes 25-9 in Wellington.Rennie noted that was somewhat of an anomaly – against what was a high quality side – and that his team had generally fronted well on return from South Africa, so they were just embracing the excitement that the challenge presents.Of course, it’ll be first things first anyway, against what is a quite improved Stormers side this year, who beat the Chiefs 34-26 in Cape Town in round seven, in what was one of the season’s highest quality games.”Maybe last year they were surprised with the intensity of the game,” Rennie said. “And they hadn’t played a New Zealand side all year. This year they’ve played five, and they were certainly far better prepared, a hell of a lot fitter, and fronted big time against us. So we’re pretty sure what we’re going to face, certainly they’ll be physical and they’ll back themselves.”The Stormers will also be buoyed by some good news on the injury front, with fullback SP Marais and flanker Kobus van Dyk both back in the mix after missing the last couple of games with knee injuries, prop Wilco Louw (knee) and flanker Rynhardt Elstadt (wrist) both having recovered after being late-in-the-week withdrawals from the team which beat the Bulls in Pretoria 41-33 last weekend, and props Oli Kebble (hamstring) and Ali Vermaak (calf) both available for the first time since the international break.