Pittsburgh and Syracuse have always been conference foes. Since flipping to the ACC, however, they have become forced rivals in the last three seasons. Whether it be on the turf or the hardwood, when the Panthers and Orange matchup, it’s usually a pretty close contest.
Newly 25th-ranked Pitt will visit the Dome for homecoming this weekend and the Orange will look to play spoiler and right the ship after dropping three straight. With bowl hopes all-but crushed, SU should look to build on its young offense against a decent defense that returns plenty of veterans. Syracuse’s defense, on the other hand, will most likely struggle against a Pittsburgh offense that features Tyler Boyd, a top NFL prospect.
Pittsburgh comes to the hill at 5-1, with road wins against Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and a home win against Virginia by a touchdown, the very team that SU lost to last week. The Panthers’ lone loss came against an Iowa team that has quietly creeping toward the AP Poll Top 10. First-year coach Pat Narduzzi has the Panthers playing very well despite losing arguably their best player, running back James Connor, to an injury before the season started.
Nevertheless, Pittsburgh is a team that is built to run the rock, and the Panther offense has excelled at doing so, even without Connor lined up in the backfield. Led by freshman Qadree Ollison, who has actually struggled in recent weeks, the Pitt offense is able to move the ball both on the ground and in the air. Quarterback Nate Peterman has driven the offense surprisingly well, completing nearly two-thirds of his passes with nine touchdowns and just three picks. Boyd, who has put up over 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons, has seen a dip in production. After averaging nearly 14 yards per catch his freshman year and over 16 yards per catch last year, his average is down to just under ten. He missed the first game because of suspension, but he already has 41 receptions in just five games. For comparison, Steve Ishmael is the Orange’s receptions leader, with just 18.
For the Orange to upset the Panthers on Saturday, a lot of dominos will need to fall the Orange’s way. First, the secondary is going to have to find a way to contain Boyd. Expect him to have a huge game against Julian Whigham and company. Second, the SU run defense is going to have to return to its early-season form. Simply put, the defense has been abysmal in the last few weeks. Finally, the Orange offense is going to have to show some consistency across the whole game. Hopefully Tim Lester will call less options and not risk the health of Eric Dungey, who has been taking hard hit after hard hit this season. It’s very possible that the Orange walks away with a win on Saturday, but it certainly isn’t likely. Pittsburgh tends to bring out the best in SU, so a good game is coming our way.