For different reasons, the game on Saturday between Syracuse and Pittsburgh is quite important for both teams. The Cuse wants to put last week’s loss at Clemson behind them while the Panthers are looking to just stay afloat.
Last season, Dino Babers and the Orange fell apart after defeating a highly ranked Clemson team and in some ways overcoming the disappointment of last Saturday’s tough loss at Death Valley could be an even greater challenge. But Syracuse is 4-1 and are on track to do much more than just becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2013.
At Pittsburgh, with games against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Miami still to come, the 2-3 Panthers need this game to have any realistic postseason hopes. By following up a loss to previously winless North Carolina with a drubbing at the hands ofUCF, Pitt is close to seeing the season spin out of control.
The two former Big East member have played 73 times with Pittsburgh holding a 38-32-3 advantage.
Syracuse at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 12:20 p.m. ET
TV: WatchESPN/ACC Network
Spread: Syracuse -4
1. Containing Eric Dungey
UCF star quarterback McKenzie Milton only completed 18 of 34 passes against the Panthers last week, but those 18 completions resulted in 328 yards and four touchdowns. Milton also ran for 51 yards and two scores. Now Dungey comes to town, another dual-threat signal-caller that has been one of the ACC’s most dangerous players so far this season. A tough, experienced player, Dungey lit Pitt up a year ago at the Carrier Dome, accounting for 413 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. The Panthers can’t allow the quarterback to take over another game.
2. Pittsburgh penalties
The Panthers had 11 penalties for 125 yards against UCF and it’s been an ongoing issue all year. Pitt is last in the ACC and 112th nationally with 76 penalty yards per game. When that many mistakes occur, they often are unnecessary and come at the wrong time. For example, with the game scoreless in the first quarter, Pittsburgh would have forced a UCF punt in their own territory after an incomplete pass. But a sideline interference penalty kept the drive alive and on the very next play the Knights completed a pass that went for 64 yards and scored two plays later. Syracuse is a good team that will take advantage of Pittsburgh mistakes.
3. Syracuse pass rush
Clemson’s much ballyhooed defensive line is seventh nationally with 17 sacks. Tied with Clemson at that number is the team the Tigers edged last Saturday. Junior defensive end Kendall Coleman has become a force with six sacks in the first five games. He had two sacks against Florida State and two more at Clemson, showing that he will deliver against the best competition. UCF brought down Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett three times and protecting the Panthers' young signal-caller will be a high priority. Of course, that’s easier said than done against this aggressive Orange defense.
On paper, this is a really easy game to call. Syracuse has been a big surprise at 4-1 and played Clemson tooth and nail. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has tripped over themselves time and time again, losing a tough one to North Carolina and getting hammered by two Top 25 teams. But things have been wacky so far in the ACC and Pittsburgh has some things going for them this week. First off, the Panthers are home, where despite a porous second half against Penn State, they have had better success this year. Secondly, they get a Syracuse squad that has heard accolades all week despite losing that tough game in Clemson. Because of these factors, Pitt will keep this one tight throughout. In the end, Syracuse's special teams will make a play or a kick, and the Orange will be the ones escaping with a narrow victory this time around.
Prediction: Syracuse 24, Pittsburgh 23
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.