The Syracuse Orange football season is not going as planned, and now sort of hangs in the balance as the 3-3 (0-2 in the ACC) squad aims to right the ship against the Pittsburgh Panthers (4-2, 1-1) on Friday night in the Carrier Dome. When we last saw Pitt, they beat us in overtime, 44-37. A lot has happened since.
Since we’re (thankfully) not Pitt fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Cardiac Hill’s JD Schroeder (who you should follow on Twitter) joins us to chat all about the Panthers. We’ll have responses over there as well, and will link to those as soon as they’re live.
We’ve been at this a long time, and we’re still not rivals. Where does Syracuse rank in terms of Pitt’s opponents/would-be rivals? And what’s made this series so odd from game to game?
I can’t remember if it was someone from Cuse or Pitt twitter, but they described Pitt-Syracuse as the most nonrivalry rivalry ever. I will definitely admit there’s more of a rivalry feel for basketball only because both programs, at least in the Big East days, were pretty competitive with each other and their games mattered a lot. In football, both programs have been anywhere from “OK” to “eh” in recent history, and aside from the wins themselves, didn’t really matter all that much. More recently, both ‘Cuse and Pitt have had some fun knocking off Clemson or some other decent teams. The programs are starting to get good enough that the games matter more. We’ll probably never see anything as weird as the 2016 game, but the games are always close either way.
Who’s the second best team in the ACC? There’s no wrong answer, really.
Hooy boy. Uh, I’m leaning towards Virginia or Wake Forest. Even as I type that and look at their records though, there’s really not anything impressive. It really is shocking just how even the conference is between teams 2-12 or so. Pitt and Duke both have pretty decent arguments as well to be #2.
Pitt’s won three straight games, but efforts have looked uneven in each. What’s stopping the Panthers from putting together a complete game thus far?
Being Pitt is what’s stopping them. That sounds like a cop out answer, but Pitt just has this mojo of they can beat and lose to any team in the country on any given day, and it’s rare they blow a team out. I would say a consistent offense would be the key to Pitt starting to win games comfortably. The defense has been stellar, and the offense and special teams need to pick up the slack a little bit.
Pittsburgh has leaned on the run game in recent years, yet it hasn’t been as effective this year and that’s forced Kenny Pickett to do a bit more. How do fans feel about Pickett and his progression as a QB?
If you had asked after the UVA game to start the season, many fans wanted him benched. Since then though, he’s played pretty well. Not great, but definitely been serviceable. New OC Mark Whipple has done a good job of keeping the plays within Pickett’s abilities. Pickett already has 2/3’s as many yards as he did all of last season even with only 5 games played. He’s played much better against the competition he struggled against last year (Penn State and UCF), and he seems more confident as well. He only has 6 TDs to 4 picks, but the hope is running game gets going enough as the season progresses to give the wide receivers more opportunities.
Pat Narduzzi said that Syracuse took their favorite blitz from Pitt. Do you think that serves as much of an advantage, if true?
Narduzzi likes to make somewhat dumb comments like that a lot. Coaches take things they like that they see elsewhere a lot. Hell, you can see a lot of Pitt’s 2016 offense in Kansas City’s offense on Sundays. I really don’t think it’s an advantage at all. It means Cuse’s offense will also be ready for Pitt’s blitzing then too.
Who’s one unsung Panthers player that SU fans should learn a little more about?
On offense, true frosh running back Vincent Davis. He and AJ Davis have both been hurt since the UCF game, but he’s a true freshman that has commanded getting some reps after doing well in the first couple games. He’s small, but elusive and I’m hoping to see that’s he’s fully healthy on Friday night. On defense, Paris Ford. He’s not quite unsung, but he’s not a super well known player yet but he will be. He’s leading Pitt in tackles, and is a force on the field. Unfortunately, he has to sit out the first half after a questionable targeting call in the Duke game. Look for his impact when the 2nd half starts.
Is there a specific player or position group on the Orange side that has you very concerned?
I’d lean defensive line. Narduzzi sung some praises of Alton Robinson calling him a first rounder. I haven’t had a chance to watch much of Cuse this year, but them being top 20 in sacks seems to agree with that assessment.
What needs to happen for Pittsburgh to come away with a win at the Carrier Dome?
Pitt’s defensive line has to get to Devito by taking advantage of what at least looks like a weak Syracuse offensive line. Overall, Pitt’s defense needs to keep playing the way it has been so far this season. On the other side of the ball, Pitt has to have some long sustained drives. Pitt’s offense seems to work really well or not at all at times.
Prediction time: Who wins this one and how?
I think Pitt’s defensive line does indeed get to Devito and causes havoc for him. Pitt’s offense does just enough to stay out of reach of Cuse. I’m going to say something like 24-17 Pitt. This would be a raelly nice win for Pitt to get on the road at the Dome.