Time – 12:00pm, Carrier Dome
TV/Radio – ESPNU, 99.5FM WTKW
Series – Pitt Leads 36-31-3
Last meeting – November 22nd, 2014, Pitt won 30-7
Coaching Connection – Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer and Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi are more than colleagues in the coaching profession. From working together at two previous stops, the two coaches have become close friends outside of football. Both coached for Rhode Island from 1993-95, where Shafer coached the secondary and Narduzzi the linebackers. From 2000-02, Narduzzi worked under defensive coordinator Scott Shafer as linebackers coach at Northern Illinois. In 2002, NIU led the MAC in every defensive category.
Going Streaking – Syracuse is riding a three game losing streak after starting the season 3-0 for the first time in 24 years. The Panthers have won three in a row and five of their six games on the season overall. Both streaks will be put on the line on Saturday. Pittsburgh's steak has earned them a spot in the rankings this week, coming in at No. 25 in the AP Poll.
Getting Defensive – Two defensive head coaches square off in this one, but have units that have headed in opposite directions of late. The Orange defense got off to a good start through their first four games. But since coming back from a week five bye, they have given up over 40 points in back to back games. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has started to shore up some of their early season woes. They are especially stingy late in games. Both defenses are aggressive and like to bring pressure to force mistakes or create negative plays. Syracuse is third in the country in defensive touchdowns, 36th in sacks and 23rd in tackles for loss. Orange defensive end Ron Thompson leads the ACC in sacks per game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Syracuse Secondary vs Tyler Boyd
The Pittsburgh offense goes as Tyler Boyd goes. He is as good as it gets from the wide receiver position in college football. Boyd has size, runs exceptional routes, has fantastic hands, is elusive in the open field and has underrated speed. He matches up with a Syracuse secondary that has struggled throughout the 2015 campaign. They have given up big plays in every game this season and feature a lot of youth. One of their primary veterans, Julian Whigham, has been disappointing. He may see fewer reps in this one.
Expect there to be a bit of a chess match going on here. Syracuse will likely mix up their coverages to confuse Boyd and the Panther quarterbacks. They will also likely double team Boyd with a corner underneath and safety over the top. Pitt will counter by moving Boyd around the formation. Bottom line, if Boyd is able to have his way all afternoon, it will be a long day for the Syracuse defense. If, however, the Orange are able to limit him to some extent, it gives their defense a huge boost.
Orange wins if …
The Defense Steps Up – The Syracuse defense has let the team down in back to back weeks. This is the week they need to step up with a big performance if the Orange is to pull off the upset. That means pressuring the quarterback, tackles for loss, limiting the impact of the Panthers running game, forcing turnovers and tackling well.
Panthers win if …
They Get to Dungey – The Pittsburgh defense has given up its share of big plays this season, but they remain an aggressive, blitzing team. If that pressure is able to get to Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey, it will really hurt the Orange offense. They can fluster the true freshman, try to force him into mistakes, and prevent him from having the necessary time to push the ball down the field.
WR Tyler Boyd – Arguably the best wide receiver in college football, Boyd will be the best player on the field every time he steps onto the Carrier Dome turf. He has size, speed, is an elite route runner and catches everything. When he is clicking, the Pittsburgh offense is difficult to step. When he is slowed down, they struggle to move the ball.
Something to Prove
'Cuse Secondary – The Syracuse defense has been torched through the air this season and now have a bonafide stud in Tyler Boyd. Shutting him down would go a long ways towards proving that this secondary can play and that the future is bright for this unit. There remain huge question marks in the Syracuse defensive backfield, so this game is one in which they have an opportunity to make a statement.
Looking to Build
QB Nathan Peterman – Since taking over as the starter for Chad Voytik, the Pittsburgh passing attack has reached new heights. Turnovers have declined, big plays have increased and the consistency has been there as well. Peterman is looking to continue his ascension in this one.
Freshman to Watch
QB Eric Dungey – Dungey is a big reason why the Syracuse offense has scored more touchdowns through six games in 2015 than they did in all 12 in 2014. He is a playmaker that has created big plays for the Orange despite being a true freshman. His performance will be interesting to watch as this may be the most aggressive defense he has faced. Combine that with complex coverages and his ability to make the right reads will be critical for Syracuse.