PITTSBURGH(AP) Thanks to star-in-the-making LeSean McCoy, Pitt finally solved its season-long problems with its short game.
McCoy, the third freshman in Pittsburgh's 118-season football history to run for at least 1,000 yards in a season, scored the go-ahead touchdown from the 1 early in the fourth quarter and the Panthers overcame another slow start to beat Syracuse 20-17 Saturday.
McCoy ran for 140 yards on 31 carries in his sixth 100-yard game, the most by any Pitt freshman since Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett in 1973. McCoy has 1,065 yards with three games to play, putting him behind only Dorsett (1,686 yards) and Curvin Richards (1,228 yards in 1988) among Pitt freshmen.
McCoy, the fifth freshman in Big East history to gain 1,000 yards, has 562 yards in his last four games.
Pitt (4-5, 2-2), the loser of five of its previous six, needed every one of McCoy's yards to hold off Syracuse (2-7, 1-3) despite game-long offensive problems that led the Orange to bench quarterback Andrew Robinson at the half and bring in Cameron Dantley.
Dantley found Taj Smith on a 56-yard scoring pass down the middle on Syracuse's second possession after halftime, tying it at 10. Pitt had taken a 7-3 lead midway through the second quarter on freshman Pat Bostick's 17-yard touchdown pass to Oderick Turner, the first time Pitt has led before halftime since Sept. 8 against Grambling State.
Not long after Conor Lee missed on a 42-yard field goal attempt, only his second miss in 14 attempts, Aaron Berry gave the Panthers excellent field position with a 53-yard punt return down the Syracuse sideline to the Orange 13.
McCoy, who was playing at a prep school a year ago, ran for 12 yards to the 1 before scoring his 11th touchdown of the season a play later. Only Dorsett (13 TDs) had more scoring runs as a Pitt freshman.
Lee made up for his earlier miss by hitting from the 32 to make it 20-10, a score that proved important when Dantley found Mike Williams on a 3-yard touchdown pass with 1:46 remaining. Syracuse couldn't recover the ensuing onside kickoff, then threw incomplete on fourth down from its own 49 with one second remaining.
Earlier, the Panthers' goal-line frustrations continued as they had a first down at the Syracuse 5 toward the end of a 15-play, 80-yard drive, only to have Conredge Collins stopped once and McCoy twice from the 1. That goal-line failure came a week after Pitt was in position to tie Louisville, only to have McCoy lose a fumble at the 1 with about a minute left to secure the Cardinals' 24-17 victory.
Last month, Pitt failed to score on two plays from the 2-yard line during the second overtime - McCoy didn't get the ball on either down - as the Panthers passed up a tying field goal and lost to Navy 48-45.
Bostick, expected to redshirt when the season began, went 21-of-30 for 153 yards and no interceptions as Pitt beat the Orange for the fifth time in six games. Dantley ended 15-of-27 for 189 yards after previously attempting only four passes all season.