Like Pittsburgh (3-5), the Orange (2-6) are in their third season season under the current head coach and staff. The Panthers are 14-17 under Dave Wannstedt, while Syracuse is just 7-24 for Greg Robinson. Both coaches came from the NFL to guide their respective programs.
"The challenge of building a program is really an exciting thing,'' Robinson said. "For me, I like it, and I'd like to think that we're progressing, but it takes time. Sometimes, you walk into situations where it's kind of made to order. But that doesn't happen all the time. ... I like the challenge of it, though.''
Wannstedt believed there were some similarities between the programs.
"I was looking at their roster over the past couple days, and they've got some young players in there playing too, particularly at quarterback and now at tailback,'' Wannstedt said. "Yeah, it's probably similar.
"They recruit a lot of the same guys that we're recruiting on the East Coast. They're in New York and, obviously, New Jersey a little bit more than we are, but I would say it's a similar situation. I don't know where they were talent-wise two years ago, but they've added some good players.''
Syracuse will be without its starting tailback, Curtis Brinkley, who leads the Orange with 371 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He will be replaced by freshman Doug Hogue, who is second with 144 yards and one score.
Starting quarterback Andrew Robinson also isn't afraid to run the ball and has the second-most carries at 65, but he also has completed nearly 53 percent of his passes for nearly 1,700 yards and 10 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
Robinson's top targets are Mike Williams and Taj Smith with 29 and 27 catches, respectively, for nearly 500 yards each. Williams averages more than 16 yards per catch, while Smith has more than 18 yards per reception. Williams has six touchdowns, and Smith has three.
"Robinson, he doesn't have as much experience, but he's a lot better athlete,'' Wannstedt said. "He's a dangerous guy on his feet. They run option with him, and he will keep the ball. He probably throws the deep ball better than he throws the shallow ball.
"If you look at their passing yards and their two wide receivers, they have a large number of big plays in the passing game. He can throw the ball down the field, so we're going to have to do a good job pressuring him. Probably the strength of their offense right now are those two wideouts, and we have to make sure that we don't give up any big plays.''
Wannstedt believed Syracuse would have a few new wrinkles on defense for the Panthers, because the Orange had a bye last week. Senior free safety Joe Fields leads Syracuse with 68 tackles, including 37 solo stops, and three interceptions. Junior middle linebacker Jake Flaherty has 58 tackles, while sophomore defensive tackle Arthur Jones has 14.5 total stops behind the line. But Syracuse has just five total sacks.
"We believe they have a very good defense,'' Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "They like to play a lot of man coverage, and they've got some young players who are playing hard. They have some experienced players as well, so we better be ready to play.''
The most dangerous aspect of Syracuse's game is special teams with freshman Max Suter averaging 27.6 yards per kick return and one spectacular 93-yard touchdown. Mike Holmes averages 25.5 yards per kickoff runback with a long return for 64 yards.
Notes: Tailback LeSean McCoy needs just 75 yards to be the first Pitt freshman to reach 1,000 yards rushing since Curvin Richards in 1988. Tony Dorsett is the other frosh to surpass that mark in 1973. ... McCoy also has 10 rushing scores, just three short of Dorsett's record (with one in the bowl game). ... Pitt will honor its 1982 Sugar Bowl team at halftime.
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