Syracuse will try for their first ACC win of the season when it hosts Pitt on Friday evening (7:00 p.m. ET / ESPN). Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
BRAD BIERMAN (Season Record: 2-2): The Syracuse-Pittsburgh rivalry is simply a hard one to figure out. Not only is it the longest current active streak of meeting an Orange opponent each season dating back to 1955, but SU has suffered defeats in five of the six ACC games played, with a total of only four wins in the series since 2000.
Why even last year’s stellar 10-win ‘Cuse team couldn’t get past the Panthers in OT, otherwise only falling to College Football Playoff semifinalists Clemson and Notre Dame, a continued struggle for Northeast football bragging rights as the two coaching staffs often cross on the recruiting trail.
As for this year’s game, there’s a matchup problem in the trenches. Pittsburgh is aggressive, tied for second in the country in sacks averaging 4.5 a game (Syracuse by comparison averages 3.3 sacks per game), led by DT Jaylen Twyman and LB Kylan Johnson who’ve combined for 10 sacks in six games.
SU has had trouble with protection, not consistently allowing Tommy DeVito enough time in the fast-collapsing pocket during losses to Maryland and last time out against NC State. Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett has been workmanlike this season, and threw a 68-yard scoring strike against Syracuse last year at Heinz Field.
For the Orange, this game begins a stretch where winning the three remaining ACC home games is practically a must to provide the security of a minimum of six victories to be bowl eligible, and take some of the sting away from failing to live up to preseason expectations.
We think Syracuse will find a way to persevere in a game where a couple of turnovers by both teams will contribute to the entertainment factor and coaching staffs’ headaches, but the Orange will hold on and beat Pitt 30-28 for the first win in the ACC this season.
WES CHENG (Season Record: 4-0): It’s tough to get an accurate read on this Pittsburgh team. To be sure, they’re 4-2, with big wins over Duke and UCF. But in an alternate reality, the Panthers could’ve limped into this game at 1-5.
Against the Golden Knights, Pitt hung on for a 35-34 win after leading early 21-7. Following that, the Panthers survived a scare against Delaware after head coach Pat Narduzzi benched several key players, and needed every bit of a fourth quarter rally to hang on 17-14.
Even in its conference win over Duke, Pitt once again stormed out to a big lead, 26-3, before scoring on the final drive to win 33-30. Three wins came at a margin of a combined seven points, and the Panthers were trailing in the fourth quarter in each game.
The flip side of that is that the Panthers have supreme confidence with the game on the line, and quarterback Kenny Pickett has led two critical game winning (and perhaps season-saving) drives. He’s completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 1,370 yards and six touchdowns. He’s consistently found his two best receivers, Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack, who have tallied 91 receptions and 907 yards to this point.
Pitt’s defense has also been solid this season, with Jaylen Twyman, Kylan Johnson and Patrick Jones II combining for 14 sacks between them. They should be salivating at SU’s porous line, who has had trouble protecting quarterback Tommy DeVito all season. In a loss against NC State, the Orange surrendered eight sacks while mustering only 10 points.
It’ll be a low scoring game, but ultimately, I see Pitt winning on the road 27-23.