‘Cuse Countdown Previews Syracuse’s Matchup with Pitt
Syracuse football heads to Pitt looking to bounce back. The ‘Cuse Countdown analysts breakdown what the Orange need to do to top the Panthers.
Key to the Game: Andre Cisco & The Syracuse Secondary
While Syracuse’s secondary has struggled at times, safety Andre Cisco has 4 picks, making him the nation’s sole interceptions leader. A defensive ball hawk like Cisco could come in handy against Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who has thrown an interception in all but one of the Panthers’ games this season. We’ve seen the Orange and the Panthers face off in several offensive shootouts over the years, and Saturday’s game could be no different. Getting a takeaway or two on defense could go a long way in helping the Orange pull out a big road win.
Prediction: Syracuse 35-21
Even though Pitt’s offense is struggling a bit this year, averaging just over 22 points per game, the fact that the last time these two squads faced off in the Steel City the final was 76-61, shows that you never know what’s gonna happen when these rivals meet. The Syracuse defensive front needs to get back to its old form after a disappointing performance against Clemson. Eric Dungey and the offense should keep their heads high after almost stunning the Tigers last week, and head into this matchup hungry. In the end, the Orange should be able to roll over the Panthers with relative ease.
Key to the Game: Don’t Dwell In The Past
The ending to last week’s game was disappointing to say the least. A win would have earned SU a top 25 ranking and kept its undefeated season alive. While upsetting, the loss isn’t the end all be all. Syracuse needs to regroup, learn from their mistakes, and move on. It’s clear emotional games take a toll on the team. Just look at last year. After the huge upset in the Carrier Dome against Clemson, the Orange derailed. SU lost every game after that win. It all comes down to mentality. Football is just as much a mental game as a physical one. Syracuse has the physical ability to beat Pittsburgh. The ‘Cuse outshine the Panthers in every aspect of the game. The question is whether the Orange have the mental toughness to put this tough loss behind them. If Syracuse can do that, then they can solidify a win.
Prediction: Syracuse 38-31
Syracuse is clearly the stronger team. The Orange outperform the Panthers in every aspect of the game. Eric Dungey wins the quarterback battle against Kenny Pickett, with 1,032 total yards compared to 743. SU’s defense is more efficient than Pitt’s, allowing fewer points and yards per game. You also can’t forget that Syracuse boasts one of the best special teams in the country. Andre Szmyt and Sean Riley are major reasons for the recent success. Every win for the Orange has come from a good showing on each side of the ball. As long as Syracuse continues this trend, they will walk away with the easy win.
Key to the Game: Go Back To The Run
Syracuse came into the Clemson game averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Then the Tigers held the Orange to 2.3 yards per carry. Dino Babers subsequently abandoned the run game. The SU offense wasn’t spending enough time on the field and the defense gassed. That’s the blueprint to beat Syracuse. Teams will look to run them to the ground. That can’t happen if a resurgent Moe Neal keeps the clock ticking and the offense on the field. Dino Babers needs to go back the run against Pittsburgh. Even more reason: Pitt is giving up 200 rush yards per game.
Prediction: Syracuse 35-25
I don’t trust Syracuse to play well in this game. The Orange took a punch in the face last Saturday, and the effects will show both physically and mentally against the Panthers. Still, SU will win. Pat Narduzzi was hired by Pitt as a defensive specialist. He thrived as Mark D’antonio’s defensive coordinator at Michigan State, winning the Art Broyles award for best assistant in the country in 2013. But since Narduzzi has joined the Panthers, his defense has been mediocre. This season, Pittsburgh is 84th in defensive efficiency. The Orange won’t need to play a good 60 minutes to win this game. One good quarter might be enough.
Key to the Game: Exercise Mental Stability
The Orange need to hit the reset button after last week’s heartbreaking loss to Clemson. It’s easy for the team to feel down after wasting away such a massive upset opportunity, but Dino Babers seemed to say the right things in his media appearances leading up to this week. SU has to remember just how well they played against Clemson; it took a national powerhouse right to the brink and make sure it goes into the Pitt game confident and focused. The Panthers are not as talented as Syracuse, nor have they played as well as the Orange have all season, but this game can still represent a big trap if SU is not 100% focused. If Syracuse can exercise the mental stability to deal with the ups and downs of both this season and this game, they should be able to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Syracuse 35-24
Syracuse opened as a 6.5-point favorite, and since then the spread has narrowed. Take SU to cover the spread all the way in this one, because the Orange are legitimate. They’ve proved a lot of people wrong in their ACC games so far, easily getting past Florida State and going toe to toe with Clemson in Death Valley for 60 minutes. Say it with me: SU is playing like a top 25 team right now. Eric Dungey has matured as a pocket passer, the receiving corps is more balanced and deep than it’s ever been under Babers, the D-line is one of the more underrated units in the country, and the young secondary is making mistakes, but also making big plays. The only way SU is going to lose this game at Pitt is if they beat themselves, and you get the sense listening to Babers that’s not what this team is about.
Key to the Game: Fix the Run Defense
Syracuse beat Clemson in every phase of the game until the Tigers started running the ball. Pitt is not the same caliber of team, but it will certainly aware of the Orange’s biggest weakness. Clemson running back Travis Etienne broke eight tackles a week ago. Pitt’s offense has struggled. The Panthers have one game with 35 points. They gained 228 yards on the ground despite no back topping 100 yards individually. If Syracuse sures up the run defense, whether through better fundamentals or a shift in scheme, it will cruise past Pitt. If the issue persists, it could be a long day at Heinz Field.
Prediction: Syracuse 35-20
The better team will prevail in this game. Pitt is a mediocre football team top to bottom. The offense struggles to move the ball, and currently averages the second least yards per game in the ACC. Without explosive options, Syracuse should have no issue containing the Panthers. On the flip side, the Pitt defense has continually been exposed this season. While that isn’t surprising against strong offense like Penn State and UCF, giving up 38 points to UNC shows the caliber of the defense. Expect the Orange to stay in control of this game from start to finish as they move one game away from bowl eligibility.
Key to the Game: Keep the Eyes on the Prize
Last week’s loss to Clemson was the definition of a heartbreaker. However, Syracuse can’t let the tough loss snowball into a long losing streak, especially with bowl eligibility on the horizon. This team showcased the talent to play with any team in the country against Clemson and could push nine wins or more if they stay mentally focused. The Orange are the better team in every aspect, from offense to defense to special teams, and Pitt is one of the worst teams in the ACC. Syracuse will also have to shake the ghost of winning on the road in the ACC where the Orange are 1-8 during Dino Babers’ reign as head coach. However, as long as Syracuse uses their talent mismatch and realizes there is still a lot to play for this season, the Orange should be fine against the lesser Panthers.
Prediction: Syracuse 38-14
Syracuse may start slow in this game as a result of a collective mopey feeling following last week’s disappointing finish. However, Dino Babers is confident this team is different from the previous teams that collapsed down the stretch and failed to make a bowl game. Syracuse’s playmakers, like Moe Neal and Sean Riley, make the difference in this one as the Orange take advantage of a very weak Pitt defense. The Panthers lost to North Carolina earlier this season and the Tar Heels are a train wreck, so if Syracuse can’t beat Pitt, then alarms will be sounding around campus. Syracuse will prove they can win conference games on the road and right the ship towards a successful season.
Key to the Game: Continued Dominance on Special Teams
Syracuse has totaled 50 or more points on three occasions this season, but the offense still might not be the most impressive unit wearing Orange. The man that nobody recognizes, Justin Lustig, is doing a fantastic job coaching the special teams. Sterling Hofrichter’s stellar performances through five games has resulted in the ‘Cuse’s 7th-best kickoff return defense and 6th-best net punting average in the entire country. Oh, and the electric Sean Riley has proven the ability to burst one all the way, while Andre Szmyt has sent the pigskin through the uprights on all but one of his attempts. In an environment like Heinz Field, with the potential of rainfall sullying the easily-ruinable surface and thus limiting offensive firepower, the “small things” like flipping the field and hitting the easy field goals might be the decisive factors in this one.
Prediction: Syracuse 27-21
Pittsburgh’s defense has been flat-out atrocious, previously relinquishing 38 points to a North Carolina offense that mustered just 19 points against East Carolina. Pat Narduzzi, formerly the defense coordinator of several top-ten Michigan State defenses, has not been able to transfer that type of success from East Lansing to Pennsylvania. So of course, with all these deficiencies, this matchup screams “trap game,” especially after an emotional loss to Clemson last weekend. Because of the ever-changing forecast and the looming bye week, Syracuse will not look as impressive as it has all season long. However, Dino Babers’ squad raw talent usurps that of Pitt, and that alone should enable the Orange to eek past the Panthers.
Key to the Game: Effectively Pair the Pass Rush with the Run Defense
It seems as though only one of the two has shown up in each of Syracuse’s five games this season. There have been weeks where the run defense has excelled and others (like last week) where it was almost nonexistent. While the pass rush has been more consistent this year, it has still come alongside some ups and downs. If the Orange can focus in on run defense this week, it could hinder a Pittsburgh offense that has struggled passing in 2018. When run defense combines with that same SU pass rush that has racked up 17 sacks and a secondary that has put up the nation’s fourth best interception total it could wreak havoc on the Panthers.
Prediction: Syracuse 44-24
After the last time Syracuse and Pittsburgh met in Western Pennsylvania, it is tough to expect anything besides a high scoring game. The two teams combine for over 65 points per game and I do not foresee that average being missed by much. With that being said, I do not see this as much of a close matchup. The Orange have shown it is at a far greater level than many could have expected this season and can compete with elite level opponents. For the Panthers, they have experience against top teams as well, but has failed to really compete with either of the team’s two top 15 opponents. If Syracuse can get a comfortable win, do not be surprised to see them in next week’s top 25.