Day & Time: Saturday, October 6 at 12:20 p.m.
Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Line: Syracuse -4.5 (opened -6.5)
TV/Streaming: Raycom Sports (meaning the usual ACC Network affiliates) WatchESPN
Radio: Cuse.com, TK 99/105, WAER 88.3, SiriusXM: 955 (home) | 971 (away)
Pittsburgh blog: Cardiac Hill
Rivalry: Pittsburgh, 38-32-3
Current Streak: 1, Orange
First Meeting: Pittsburgh came to central New York and shut Syracuse out, 30-0, back in October of 1916 in the first contest between the two eastern programs. Actually, SU went 2-8-2 in its first 12 games against the Panthers. The series would eventually even out a bit, but it’s Pittsburgh which holds the all-time advantage.
Last Meeting: Playing inside the Carrier Dome last year, the Orange held on to nip the Panthers, 27-24. As John wrote then, Syracuse was able to wear down Pittsburgh with its defense, not just its usually potent offense. Pitt simply couldn’t get comfortable and at one point in that game from ‘17 was 0-10 on the third-down conversions.
Syracuse was able to put up some numbers on offense, with then-junior Eric Dungey throwing for 365 yards and two TDs, and Syracuse racking up 500-plus yards. But for the dominating performances on both sides of the ball, Syracuse allowed the Panthers to hang around until the end.
Head Coaches: SU: Dino Babers (3rd year, 12-17); Pittsburgh: Pat Narduzzi (4th year, 23-20)
Coach Bio: After his playing days at Rhode Island were done, Patrick Narduzzi began his coaching career as an assistant at Miami, Oh. In working his way up through the ranks, Narduzzi eventually elevated himself to defensive coordinator at Cincinnati in 2004. Three years later, Bearcats’ head coach Mark Dantonio left to take over Michigan State, and Narduzzi put on a press to be chosen for the top job at UC. Once Brian Kelly became the choice, Narduzzi bolted and followed Dantonio to East Lansing to be his defensive coordinator at Michigan State. Narduzzi settled in and found success, making the Spartans a feared defensive foe.
Pittsburgh eventually picked Narduzzi as its head man after Paul Chryst bolted to Wisconsin following the 2014 season. The first two years of the Narduzzi Era began with back-to-back 8-5 campaigns, ending both seasons with bowl losses. The Panthers would suffer their first losing season under Narduzzi in 2017, finishing 5-7.
Last Year: Despite the 5-7 record, Narduzzi’s Panthers were a competitive bunch in ‘17. There were a couple of blowout losses to the likes of Penn State and Oklahoma State, but Pittsburgh typically kept games close. And by the time November rolled around, Pitt nearly beat top-20 Virginia Tech and then got the job done with a shocking 24-14 upset of then-No. 2 Miami.
This past December, the administration gave Narduzzi a seven-year extension and a pay raise.
Last Game: The Panthers were railroaded by Defending National Champion Central Florida*, 45-14. This one was over by half, as the Knights were up 31-7 after just two quarters in Orlando.
Quarterback McKenzie Milton threw for 328 yards, four touchdowns and averaged over 9.5 yards per completion against the Panthers. Pittsburgh’s secondary was eaten alive, giving up big play after big play. Just the same, UCF had four players rush for at least 40 yards, with another Knight gaining 36 yards on the ground.
“Fear Me, I’ve Killed Hundreds of Timelords”: If Pitt is going to beat Syracuse, it will likely need a solid game from quarterback Kenny Pickett—emphasis on “solid.” The sophomore hasn’t lit anyone up this season, but he is completing 62 percent of his passes and will need to help steady the ship against what has turned into an aggressive front four for Syracuse. If Pickett gets happy feet or is off target, it could be another long day for the Panthers.
Further, Pittsburgh has been able to put up some points this season, but if it happens, that seems to occur in the first two quarters of games. With the Orange being a high-octane offense, the Panthers will have to come out of the second-half gate ready to roll.
If Syracuse Wins: Crank up the BTO because the Orange would be taking care of business and doing what good teams do: beat bad teams. A victory at Pittsburgh also would give the Orange five total wins, the most since 2013. Furthermore, this would be Syracuse’s first win on the road against the Panthers since 2001.
Essentially, a win further validates the concept that Syracuse football is relevant and on to something potentially special for its fans.
If Syracuse Loses: Throw on Simon and Garfunkel! An L would represent a truly blown opportunity to showcase that Syracuse is no longer a patsy in the ACC. It would be more of the same from season’s gone by. Remember, in its three losses, Pitt has been outscored, 134-45.
A loss wouldn’t ruin the season, but it would certainly derail the “come back party” by a few weeks at the minimum. In fact, if SU loses to the Panthers, it would make the other “winnable” games on the schedule (NC State, Louisville and Boston College) look that much more difficult.
Fun Fact No. 2: Pittsburgh is busting its retro uniforms for all its sports during this Homecoming Weekend. First, how is Pitt not wearing those for every game? And secondly, I get the feeling SU ain’t going to be many team’s “homecoming” opponent any time soon.