Syracuse – Pittsburgh Predictions

Syracuse is 2-13 against Pittsburgh in their last 15 contests. Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
Friday, Oct 06, 2017 at 3:15 pm by Sports Editor

Our ‘Cuse Countdown analysts give their predictions for Saturday’s matchup between Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

1. David Edelstein

How Pittsburgh Wins: Open Holes for the Run Game

For Pittsburgh to win, the Panthers have to find a way to run the ball. Right now, Pittsburgh’s ranks 108th out of 129 FBS teams with just over 114 yards per game this season. Pitt has scored a solid seven touchdowns on the ground this year, though, making the rushers a legitimate threat to pound the turf when the Panthers are in the red zone, where they have scored a total 13 times on 17 chances (11 touchdowns). This along with the sudden presence of  tailback Qadree Ollison, who showed up last week in the Panthers’ 42-10 win over Rice with a touchdown and could be receiving more carries against Syracuse. But if Pitt wants this success on the ground, the Panthers will have to pierce the SU front seven, which has not been an easy task for any team this year. But with a sturdy passing game, if Pittsburgh can capitalize when running the ball, the Panthers should have success and take the game.

How Syracuse Wins: Key to the Game is the Offensive Line

SU has to fortify its offensive line. While the Orange defensive line has been stellar, the Orange offensive line often deteriorates. Eric Dungey is a great quarterback – he ranks 12th in the country in passing yards – but he cannot do his job if he has no protection. If the offensive line gives him the time he needs, imagine how good he can be. Instead,  Dungey has been forced to scramble and rush the ball consistently, making him SU’s top rusher with 277 yards and 7 touchdowns. He’s averaging over 55 yards per game, while Donate Strickland is in second place with only 28 yards per game! If the offensive line affords Dungey enough protection for him to do his job, Syracuse takes the game.

Prediction: 32-28 Syracuse

The last 15 contests between these teams have been competitive, but SU hasn’t beaten Pitt since 2012. This year though, Syracuse has played better against ranked opponents than Pitt has. Syracuse came within nine points of then No. 25 LSU and within eight of now No. 23 NC State. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh lost by 19 to No. 4 Penn State and 38 to No. 9 Oklahoma State. In the end, the Orange with outrun the Panthers this time.

2. Jonathon Hoppe

How Pitt Wins: Max Browne Airs it Out

Its offense picks up right where it left off last week against Rice. The Panthers scored 42 points and put up 479 yards of total offense last week. However, Syracuse is better at football than the 1-4 Owls. Other than that contest and its week one win over Youngstown State, Pitt has lost every game by at least two possessions. With that said, something clicked last week. Quarterback Max Browne finished 28-32 with 410 yards and four touchdowns. That’s what Pitt signed up for when they brought Browne on board. Browne has to continue to trend upwards to beat the Orange.

How Syracuse Wins: Spread the Ball on Offense

Quarterback Eric Dungey has to get more players involved. While Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips are great receivers, the Orange needs to spread the ball around to keep Pitt honest. In the secondary, the Panthers are led by cornerback Avonte Maddox and strong safety Jordan Whitehead. Those two  are good enough to cover Ishamel and Phillips in most situations. The rest of the defense is riddled with question marks, including two-first year starters at linebacker. Pittsburgh is not a prolific pass rushing team, so Dungey should have time to incorporate other guys into the offense. Against NC State, only three players had more than one reception. One of those was Dontae Strickland, who caught four passes for 13 yards. That needs to change.

Prediction: Syracuse 45-42

After dropping its last two games by single digits, Syracuse finally comes away with a win. I think Dungey outshines Browne in this one. These two teams are very similar at nearly every position other than quarterback. SU learns from its mistakes over the past two weeks and picks up its first conference win of the season.

3. Zach Lang 

How Pitt Wins: Slow Down the Game

Pittsburgh has been plagued this season with defensive woes.  Opponents have scored an average of 31.6 points per game against the Panthers, but in its two wins Pitt allowed just 15.5 points per game.  The Orange has a fast-paced offense that could be too much for Pitt to handle.  If Pitt wants to pull out of the Dome with a win in tow, it needs to slow down the Orange offense to it out of its scoring element. Slow down the Orange, slow down the score differential.

How Syracuse Wins: Use Offensive Players the Way they should be Used 

Utilizing offensive players to their own individual advantages will be essential if the Orange want to get the most out of this team.  That starts with Chris Elmore and Moe Neal.  Chris Elmore spent time alongside Dungey in the shotgun and being motioned out to the flat as a receiver.  He is a 280-pound back; he should be receiving handoffs from Dungey under center in short yardage situations.  As for Moe Neal, he has been incredibly effective as a receiver out of the backfield, notably last week when he had a 40+ yard reception.  Strickland has been an average back, but maybe having both in the backfield as duel-threat options would keep defenses on their toes.

Prediction: SU 42-20

Pitt is not the same team without quarterback Nathan Peterman.  Since he moved on to the pros in Buffalo, Max Browne has not been a solid replacement, especially on the road.  Browne’s passing yards per attempt are below five yards when playing on the road and his completion percentage plummets by ten percent.  The Dome is no cake walk, most definitely when an ACC team and former Big East rival is in town.  Expect the Orange defense to come out strong and play to Browne’s insecurities.

4. Tim Leonard 

How Pittsburgh Wins: Pressure Eric Dungey 

Pittsburgh will come out on top Saturday if its front seven wins the battle in the trenches and gets pressure on Eric Dungey. Syracuse is a completely different team when Dungey gets out of rhythm, and that’s been evident in each of SU’s three losses this season. In the Middle Tennessee State game, Dungey was sacked six times and SU’s offense looked lost the entire game. I expect Pittsburgh to bring a blitz heavy scheme like Scott Shafer’s defense dialed up in week two. The Panthers have only compiled six sacks all season, which ranks 110th in the entire nation. However, those weak numbers might be a little misleading because Pitt has played against a run heavy Georgia Tech offense and two solid offensive lines in Penn State and Oklahoma State. Pittsburgh has a golden opportunity to improve its sack total dramatically this week and minimize SU’s talent advantage in the process.

How Syracuse Wins: The Offensive Line has to Show Up

SU has the pieces on offense to score early and often against the Panthers. Whether it will or not, however, is going to come down to the offensive line. It sounds simple but the SU offense really will only go as far as its offensive line will take them. If Syracuse’s young guards and tackles can establish a new line of scrimmage, the Orange will be able to run the ball effectively. When SU runs the ball well, it subsequently frees up Dungey and the entire offense. I have a hard time seeing a scenario where Syracuse loses this one in a shootout like last year. The Orange is the more talented offensive team this time around. But Syracuse can only prove that if its offensive line steps up and gives Dungey more time in the pocket.

Prediction: Syracuse 37-27

This entire SU season has felt like one prolonged roller coaster ride. The Middle Tennessee State game was the gigantic drop riders typically experience off the start and since then there has been a mixture of subtle climbs and minor drops. This Saturday, SU is going to experience one of those small highs. Pittsburgh is not the same team as last year. Nathan Peterman and James Conner aren’t walking through that door. On top of that, SU’s defense is much better. Expect this game to be back and forth most of the way, but Syracuse has the better quarterback and the better defensive line. The Orange will pull away late in the fourth quarter.

5. Jake Marsh

How Pittsburgh wins: Get to Eric Dungey

We saw last week what Syracuse’s quarterback can do when he has time. If Eric Dungey can get the ball in the air and develop chemistry with his top two receivers, Syracuse is going to have a field day. So, it is the Pittsburgh defense’s job to make the junior uncomfortable, especially in the pocket. Unfortunately for Panthers fans, Pitt ranks 12th in the ACC in sacks this season. They must be physical up front and ensure the Dungey doesn’t have time to lock in. If that’s the case, the road team is in good shape to win in the Carrier Dome yet again.

How Syracuse wins: Remember That Kickoff is at 12:30

Seriously. As blunt as this sounds, I’m not positive the Orange were aware when each of its last two games started. Turning the ball over and allowing points just minutes into the contest at LSU and NC State did not bode well for the Orange. So, it is crucial that this does not happen again and Syracuse starts fast. SU has shown its ability to play down the stretch, now if it can compete for a full 60 minutes of football, a win should not be a problem on homecoming weekend.

Prediction: Syracuse 34-25

Saying this is a must win game for Syracuse is an understatement. On paper, the Orange is much better than Pittsburgh. And I know Dino Babers and company have not taken any moral victories the last two weeks. But the truth is this: SU has put up respectable fights in back to back weeks on the road. And the Orange will show up in the Dome on Saturday in front of what will (hopefully) be a big crowd.

6. JD Raucci

How Pittsburgh Wins: Max Browne has to Play Big

If Pitt wants to win this game, then QB Max Browne will have step up. This Panthers team is not the same one that put up 76 points on the Orange last year. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada is now at LSU and Pitt’s top two threats from 2016, RB James Conner and QB Nathan Peterman, are now both on NFL rosters. This year, Pitt’s attack has been somewhat stagnant, averaging just 359 yards per game, which is just the 66th best mark in the country. Well, it was stagnant until last week. Pat Narduzzi’s club exploded versus Rice, going for 479 yards of offense and Browne has a huge reason why. He threw for 410 yards and added four touchdowns to his stat line. For the first time all season, it seemed like Browne clicked. If he can replicate that performance this week and take care of the ball to keep the Orange’s explosive offense off the field, then Pitt may just have a chance to win its fifth straight meeting with SU.

How Syracuse Wins: Find a Running Game

The running backs have to be effective. Through the first five weeks of the season, the SU running attack, outside of Eric Dungey, has been abysmal. The trio of Dontae Strickland, Moe Neal and Chris Elmore average less than 52 yards per game. This week presents a unique opportunity for those guys to get some of their swagger back. Pitt allows 170 yards per game on the ground which ranks 97th in the country. The front four has struggled, so the combination of Strickland and Elmore’s power and Neal’s shiftiness has the potential to shine this week. Those backs shining will also provide some balance to SU’s prolific passing game. If the running backs are good enough to force Pittsburgh’s defense to load the box against the run, the passing game will open up and Eric Dungey may be able to take some shots downfield and break off big plays that we haven’t seen since the Amba Etta-Tawo era.

Prediction: Syracuse 33-17

Pitt just isn’t a very good football team. Erv Philips has gotten back to his old ways, so he and Ishmael will wreak havoc all day long against a lackluster defense. Meanwhile, Max Browne’s performance against Rice is a complete outlier that came versus a non-Power Five defense and he’ll get back to his dreadful ways, leading to an SU victory.

7. Nicole Weaving 

How Pitt Wins: Take Advantage of SU’s Secondary

History is on Pitt’s side as the Panthers have won 11 of the last 12 meetings between these long time foes. Pitt has the chance to win this game if Quarterback Max Browne is able to utilize his many options at wide receiver against a struggling Syracuse secondary. Against Rice last week, 10 different receivers had catches, including four different players having touchdown receptions. Syracuse’s secondary has constantly been a step behind, giving up long touchdowns against LSU and Middle Tennessee. If the Panthers can exploit the secondary, the offense can win this game.

How Syracuse Wins: Exploiting Pitt’s Offensive Line

Syracuse’s front seven has had lots of momentum throughout the beginning of the season. The Orange currently ranks second in the nation in three-and-out defense and seventh in third down defense. This shows the front seven’s ability to make big plays. Pitt has also shown a weak offensive line that has allowed 16 sacks this season. Syracuse needs to get pressure on Browne, who’s proven he can’t play well on the road. He barely puts up more than 100 yards away from Heinz Field and both of his interceptions came against Penn State down in the Happy Valley.  Plus, if ‘Cuse can shut down Qadree Ollison, who only averages 3.9 yards per gain, their offense will lack efficiency on the ground too. A team can’t win with no offense.

Prediction: Syracuse 42-30

Syracuse is proven at quarterback and defensively. The Orange is stronger on both sides of the ball. In a matchup where both sides sport weak offensive lines, running games and secondaries, it will come down to the field generals. Dungey is one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks, where Browne is one of its worst.