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Syracuse football vs. Pittsburgh preview: Five things to watch

Nervous? Well, you probably should be.

Syracuse v North Carolina State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When the Syracuse Orange and the Pittsburgh Panthers continue their rivalry on Friday night, the host Orange are in desperate need of a win. Sitting at 0-2 in the ACC and 3-3 overall, ‘Cuse needs to take advantage of every home game to keep hopes of a bowl alive. This game should be a defensive slugfest, with plenty of sloppy play similar to Thursday night’s 16-10 loss to N.C. State. But what will be key to ‘Cuse changing the outcome of Friday’s game?

Does the offensive line get another shake-up?

Talking about the Syracuse offensive line has become a difficult experience. Yes, they’re injured and Aaron Servais did so much to convert to tackle that his return to center has been understandably difficult. The rest of the line has been inconsistent, and a few shake ups have yet to yield any semblance of improvement in execution or consistency. Insanity is doing the same thing expecting a different result, and I feel that this extends to line. Dino and his staff surely feel similarly, so if there’s been no improvement from last week, do we see another stab at a shake up? And if so, will it work?

More two-back sets?

When the offense was struggling against Liberty, we saw it utilize some two-back sets to assist in protection and easier options for Tommy DeVito. It sure feels like this could be thrown out there again this weekend against a Pitt team that lives in opposing backfields (49 TFLs so far rank 15th in the country). It would also give more flexibility for Jarveon Howard to see the field, given how had some success against N.C. State inside, to help in an area the Orange have struggled mightily with to date. Keeping Pitt from getting too aggressive will help ‘Cuse keep their defense at bay a bit more, which is key to winning this game.

Tommy DeVito and Deep Ball: An Opportunity

Speaking of finding weaknesses in Pitt’s defense, they’ve been incredibly good this year (11th in the country according to SP+) but that doesn’t mean that they’re perfect. Pitt’s biggest weakness? Big passing plays. Duke was able to move down the field and score on big chunk plays against the Panthers, and we know Syracuse has the weapons to take advantage. Because of the the lack of protection, we haven’t seen DeVito take too many deep shots. But when he has, Trishton Jackson has been on the other end to haul them in and that connection has been improving.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Orange front four take over?

Any Syracuse win requires the defense to have a game, specifically Syracuse’s front four. N.C. State was one of the best pass protecting teams in the country going into last week’s contest, but the Orange took advantage of an injury to grab three sacks and cause two hurries. Pitt’s offensive line isn’t quite as consistent, and the front four should elevate their game. At home on Friday night, the Carrier Dome should provide a home field advantage, and the front four needs to take advantage to to try and disrupt any Pitt attempt at big plays in a game where the margin between a win and loss is so thin.

With or without Cisco, the defensive backs will need a big night

While the Wolfpack didn’t dominate the Orange on offense, a former third-string QB came in and there for 205 yards, at times finding receivers open in the middle of the field at will. Solid red zone defense bailed ‘Cuse out, but this week the secondary will be facing a much more confident and established quarterback in Kenny Pickett. The junior has already racked up over 1,300 yards this season, and stared down a very good Penn State defense this year, throwing for a season high 372 yards. Whether the Orange get their All-American safety back or not, the secondary will need to have a remarkable game if ‘Cuse wants their fourth win on Friday night.