By running the table Pitt would still be in the hunt for the conference title and an automatic BCS berth for the second consecutive season. Greg Robinson will have an eye toward the future. Expect to see an influx of underclassmen, as Syracuse will be looking to build a solid foundation for the upcoming seasons. Syracuse leads the all-time series, 30-27-3. The Panthers are 13 point favorites.
Pitt / Syracuse
Offense: 25.1 PPG / 15.3 PPG
Defense: 19.9 PPG / 21.2 PPG
Off Rush: 121.1 YPG / 117.3 YPG
Off Pass: 226.6 YPG / 147.2 YPG
Off Total: 347.7 YPG / 264.5YPG
Def Rush: 158.6 YPG / 168.2 YPG
Def Pass: 164.0 YPG / 171.5 YPG
Def Total: 322.6 YPG / 339.7 YPG
Penalties: 57.0 YPG / 49.7 YPG
T/O Margin: -5 / -1
Hidden Stats to Watch:
The Orange rank last in the Big East in two categories, rushing defense (168 yards per game) and scoring offense (15.3 PPG). The pass defense is ranked 15th in the nation yielding only 171.5 yards per game. Though the defense has forced 13 turnovers, not one of those turnovers has been converted into points. Damian Rhodes is averaging 93.2 yards per game. Syracuse enters the game ranked 112th in total offense and 108th in scoring of the 117 teams in Division I-A. Syracuse has an overall record of 13-16 against the Panthers in games played in Pittsburgh.
The Panthers are last in the Big East, allowing 24 sacks. Tyler Palko is second in the conference, passing for 224.1 yards per game. Pitt ranks last in the Big East with a turnover margin of minus-5. Greg Lee ranks second in the Big East with 94.9 yards per game and 20.8 yards per reception. H.B. Blades leads the conference in tackles per game (11.0). Josh Cummings has converted 75% of his field goal attempts (9-12), with a long of 49 yards. Pitt's secondary is ranked 12th in the nation surrendering only 164 yards per game.
Syracuse was humbled by Rutgers in the Carrier Dome 31-9. The Orange fumbled the ball nine times, five of which were recovered by the Scarlet Knights. The lone bright spot for Syracuse was place kicker John Barker, who made three of four field goal attempts, accounting for all of the Orange points.
Pitt played its most complete game of the season in a 38-13 rout of South Florida. Larod Stephens-Howling made his return to the lineup and rushed for 91 yards on 14 carries. Tyler Palko completed 15 of 21 passes for 203 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Palko also rushed for a touchdown. The defense forced three turnovers and developed a solid pass rush, sacking USF quarterback Pat Julmiste five times, a Pittsburgh season high.
Perry Patterson ranks fifth in the Big East in passing yards per game (146.2). On the season he's completed 79 of 154 passes (51.3%) for 877 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. His quarterback rating is 100.37.
Tyler Palko is second in the conference in total yardage. This season he has completed 122 of 219 passes for 1,569 yards, twelve touchdowns and six interceptions. He holds a 55.7% completion percentage and a 128.49 passer rating.
Analysis: Both secondaries are very good and nationally ranked. The weather could be a factor. The local forecast calls for rain on game day. Expect both teams to have a tough time throwing the football.
Syracuse features the third leading rusher in the conference in Damian Rhodes. This season Rhodes has carried the ball 125 times for 559 yards and five touchdowns. Rhodes is also a dangerous weapon out of the backfield as he has caught 17 passes for 155 yards.
Pitt, has beem unable to keep healthy bodies in the lineup, they continue to use a three-headed monster at tailback. Rashad Jennings, Ray Kirkley and Larod Stephens-Howling have combined to rush for 804 yards on 160 carries, an average of 5.0 yards per carry and two touchdowns.
Analysis: Last season Rhodes torched the Panthers for 103 rushing yards, including the wining touchdown in a 38-31 victory in double-overtime for Syracuse. Syracuse ranks last in the Big East in rushing offense averaging 117.3 yards per game.
Stephens-Howling, will play his second straight game since coming back after missing two games with an injury. The Panther offensive line is making strides toward improving a running game that has ranked at or near the bottom of the Big East all season.
Syracuse always seems to have good athletes playing wide receiver. This year is no different. In Tim Lane and Rice Moss, the Orange have weapons on the outside. The problem thus far has been getting them the ball.
Greg Lee is a consensus All American and Tyler Palkos' go to guy. On the season he has caught 32 passes for 664 yards and five touchdowns. Derrick Kinder is another capable option for the Panthers. Pitt features arguably the best tight end trio in the conference with Erik Gill, Steve Buches and Darrelle Strong.
Analysis: Syracuse is struggling in the passing game. That's not a good thing when you're playing the 12th ranked pass defense in the country. Lee, Gill, Buches, Kinder and Strong will test the skills of any secondary. Will the Orangemen be up to the challenge? If Palko has time to throw, this could get ugly.
During the current four-game losing streak, the defense has been playing well and causing turnovers. Defensive end's James Wyche and Ryan LaCasse are as good as they come and could create major problems for a Pitt line that's already allowed Tyler Palko to be sacked 24 times this season. Wyche has made 33 tackles and forced two fumbles. LaCasse has 27 stops and also has forced a pair of turnovers. The Orange will stack eight men in the box to stop the run and blitz from all angles to confuse the Panther offense.
Pitt is showing some signs of life along the defensive line. The Panthers had five sacks against USF, their best total of the season. The tandem of Josh Lay and Darrelle Revis is one of the best in the nation. With the improved play along the defensive front, the linebackers are starting to make the big plays coach Wannstedt envisioned when he took the reins of his alma mater.
Analysis: On the defensive line, Syracuse has the advantage. At Linebacker, Pitt has the upper hand. The secondaries of both teams are fairly even.
John Barker is one of the best placement kickers in the conference. He's made 80% of his field goals this season. Brendan Carney leads the Big East in punting with a 44-yard average. Steve Gregory leads the conference in punt return average (15.0). Kareem Jones is second in the conference in kick returns.
Josh Cummings seems to be completely healed from knee surgery. He has converted 9-12 FG's and nine of nine PAT's. Punter Adam Graessle continues to be one of the best at what he does. He is second in the conference averaging 43.9 yards per punt. Darrelle Revis is third in the conference in punt returns with an average of 14.6 yards per return. Larod Stephens-Howling, Marcel Pestano and Terrell Allen are very dangerous kick returners. Stephens-Howling will likely not see much action in the return game; he has become too valuable to the Pitt offense.
Analysis: Both teams are evenly matched in special teams. If the game comes down to a field goal, I like the Panthers chances in the swirling wind of Heinz field.
Prediction: Pitt, 34-13