After a second straight loss to Notre Dame in the Dome last week, Syracuse needs to bounce back in a big way and show that their 6-0 start to the season wasn’t just a result of a favorable schedule.
The offense looked stilted at times, and though the defense played well, it gave up big plays at the wrong times to allow the Irish to take control of the game. That may end up being the case again this week as the Orange hit the road to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers in Acrisure Stadium (formerly Heinz Field). Here’s what to watch for.
- Teams: Syracuse Orange (6-2, 3-1 ACC) v. Pittsburgh Panthers (4-4, 1-3)
- Date: Saturday, Nov. 5
- Game Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- Venue: Acrisure Stadium (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Network: ACC Network
Fearless Prediction: Syracuse 30, Pittsburgh 21
The Juice Online Season Record: 8-0
Shrader Needs To Spread The Ball Around
I wrote about it last week and sadly it ended up being the case again, as the Orange passing offense is simply too predictable without a second WR being featured outside of Oronde Gadsden. While Gadsden is a physical freak and able to get open seemingly at will, if he doesn’t then the play has almost zero chance of gaining positive yards unless Shrader takes off running.
As well as Garrett Shrader has played this year, it may be shocking to learn that SU is currently the 75th ranked passing offense in the nation with 231.4 yards per game. That may have worked when Sean Tucker was having a Heisman-level year last year, but SU is the 56th ranked rushing offense this year. If Syracuse is going to go on the road for three out of our final four games and win in hostile environments, they’re going to need to have more success throwing the ball.
The coaching staff has suggested all year that it’s up to the wide receivers to “step up” and earn the right to be the locked in number two option. Since that doesn’t seem to be happening I’d like to see the coaches make more of an effort to scheme these guys touches, with more WR screen calls, quick slants, and hook routes against off-coverage.
Pitt Defense Vulnerable To The Pass, Solid Against The Run
The Panthers run a 4-3 defensive scheme, opting for more bigger bodies at the point of attack to shut down teams exactly like the Orange. While Sean Tucker is essentially match-up proof, he’ll have to earn every extra yard he can get.
Players like Calijah Kancey and Habakkuk Baldonado will give the SU offensive line all it can handle. Kancey currently sits atop all Power 5 interior defenders in pass rushing grade per PFF, and has three sacks to go along with 8.5 tackles-for-loss. Baldonado’s sack numbers are way down since the nine he posted last year, but he still has 3.5 TFL’s to go with a half sack. He also has two passes defensed and a blocked kick.
Against the pass it’s a different story. Pitt is currently 68th in the country giving up 231.1 yards per game, almost exactly what Syracuse is averaging. This is why it’s so crucial to find a second receiving option, because the opportunity is there. Against 4-3 teams that are built to stop the run first- and with a talented back like Sean Tucker- the play-action game can be incredibly effective. That’s an area where a big, fast downfield threat like Damien Alford can really excel.
» Related: What did recruits say about Syracuse’s loss to Notre Dame?
How Much Will SU Miss Williams?
The impact of the season-ending injury to Garrett Williams cannot be overstated. While the Orange still have All-American Duce Chestnut, Williams was an essential part of that 1-2 combo at cornerback.
Truthfully though, USC transfer Kedon Slovis hasn’t been that impressive this year so missing Williams may not matter much- this week. Slovis has thrown only five touchdowns in seven games and has just as many interceptions. He’s completing under 60% of his passes (58.2) and has only thrown for 1,561 yards.
The real threat on Pitt’s offense is running back Israel Abanikanda. Through eight games he’s third in the country in rushing yards (1,086), first in rushing touchdowns (16), and first in total touchdowns (17).
With the recent struggles SU has had in rush defense, Abanikanda could be a real problem, and they could certainly miss Garrett WIlliams ability to come up and stop plays short on outside runs, as he’s done so often throughout his career.
All in all it sets up to be a game where both teams want and should be able to run the ball. The Panthers are a bit one-dimensional in that aspect this year but with as well as Abanikanda has played it hasn’t mattered. Syracuse’s listless and penalty-prone offense has the talent and ability to impose their will through the air on Pitt’s defense, but will they?
After two emotional losses, I think Syracuse pulls it together and has a good day on offense for the first time in three weeks. Tucker will get it done on the ground and SU utilizes the play action to make some big plays and put the pressure on Pitt’s anemic offense to match them score for score, which they won’t.
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