Temple Of Doom

The Carrier Dome has been a House of Horrors for the Pitt football program over the years, but the Panthers (2-1) have an opportunity to exorcize those demons against Syracuse (1-3) in the Big East opener today at noon.

Pittsburgh and the Orange have been playing since 1916 and each has won 30 games with three ties in the 63 previous matchups. But the Panthers lost 11 straight to Syracuse in recent years, including six at the Carrier Dome. They won 21-11 two years ago there.

Pitt is 12-17-3 overall at Syracuse with a 2-10-1 mark there since 1984.

"Coach definitely has reminded us that we've struggled in the Dome, for the most part,'' Pitt redshirt junior quarterback Bill Stull said. "So, we're working on staying focused and getting ready for Syracuse. This is our first Big East game, and we want to start off with a win this week on the road.''

While the Orange fans haven't packed the venerable building in a while, the noise factor can be difficult to handle if players aren't used to it. Pitt cornerback Aaron Berry noticed that right away even though he only played on special teams in a Panthers victory.

"It was loud out up there, real loud, and it was hard to hear the checks and everything like that,'' Berry said. "We have to be on the same page in the secondary, as much as any place, because if one guy's playing one coverage and somebody else plays another, we'll get beat. So, we have to be on task.''

Berry noted that with senior quarterback Cameron Dantley, Syracuse will take some shots downfield, but primarily will run slants and out patterns. Dantley appears to be settled as the starter the past three games and is 40-for-69 (58 percent) for 412 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions.

"You can tell that Dantley has some savvy,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "He was 14-for-17 last week and just has a little moxy to him about making a play. He's not a great runner, so they don't boot him much.

"(Andrew) Robinson, who played last year and the first game, is not real big. They'll do some things, but it's not like Donovan McNabb is there. (But) the opponents they played are 10-2, so sometimes your record is deceiving.''

Sophomore Donte Davis and redshirt junior Mike Owen, a converted defensive end, are the top receivers with 12 and 10 catches, respectively, for 135 and 97 yards. But Owen has two touchdown receptions. Nobody else has double-figure catches, but redshirt freshman running back Doug Hogue, frosh wideout Marcus Sales and redshirt freshman tight end Nick Provo have a TD catch each.

"We need to put some pressure on them,'' Bennett said. "I think the hurries and the hits, sometimes, are more important than the sacks. I think our D-line and our linebackers have done a good job there, but I'm a little disappointed and don't mind telling you that we don't have enough takeaways.''

Senior Curtis Brinkley, junior Delone Carter and Hogue, the biggest at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, are the top running backs. Brinkley leads with 358 yards and three touchdowns, while Carter and Hogue have 139 and 138, respectively. But the Orange averages 4.7 yards per rush.

"We had three plays last week that basically were 10 points and 110 yards,'' Bennett said. "The big run, when we were running an overloaded coverage, and we had a miscue with our D-line and a missed tackle. We had 10 men on the field on the pass before halftime, and then we had Jovani's long pass. He was right there with good coverage, but he just didn't look back.

"And it was a good play by them. So, we were one or two plays away from having a really fine defensive game. We're very close now. ... Brinkley, Hogue and Carter are three good backs, and Dantley has come in and done an admirable job at quarterback. I didn't realize it, but they have a good red-zone offense, but they haven't had a lot of chances.''

Syracuse has an active defense, even though it has allowed an average of 37 points per game, but 55 came against Penn State. Fifth-year senior Jake Flaherty and sophomore Mike Mele, two linebackers, along with fifth-year senior defensive end Vincenzo Giruzzi are the top tacklers with 27, 26 and 26 stops, respectively. And redshirt junior tackle Arthur Jones has four sacks.

"They have a good defense and feed off their crowd, but I think big plays in general can quiet their crowd,'' Stull said. "And we're going to simulate the noise in practice, just to get used to it, so we'll work on that.

"We feel like we're getting better on offense, but we left a lot of points on the field, too, and we really haven't played up to our potential. We missed some plays with our pass and run game, but we'll pick it up this week.

"We have to,'' Stull added. "This is our first Big East game, and we need to start off with a win. That's the most important thing this week.''

And it's something that hasn't happened too often for Pitt at Syracuse.

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