FACTS & STATS: Site: Carrier Dome (49,262) -- Syracuse, New York. Television: ACC Network. Home Record: Pitt 4-2, Syracuse 3-1. Away Record: Pitt 1-3, Syracuse 2-3. Neutral Record: Pitt 0-0, Syracuse 0-1. Conference Record: Pitt 2-4, Syracuse 0-1. Series Record: Pittsburgh leads, 34-31-3.
GAME NOTES: Former Big East rivals will clash as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference when the Syracuse Orange host the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
Pittsburgh has had its ups and downs in its first run through the ACC. The Panthers are 5-5 overall and just 2-4 in league action. They have lost three straight league battles, but just two weeks ago they knocked off Notre Dame, 28-21, in Pittsburgh. Last weekend the Panthers let a game slip through their fingers as a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown by North Carolina's Ryan Switzer ended a Pittsburgh rally and gave the Tar Heels a 34-27 victory at Heinz Field.
Syracuse is also 5-5 overall but has had a bit more success in league action with three wins in six tries. However, over the weekend the Orange were routed 59-3 on the road against No. 2 Florida State. The loss was the second of more than 50 points for the Orange this year and ended a two-game win streak for the team. In the loss to the Seminoles, the Orange had just 247 yards of total offense and a single trip to the red zone.
Before the Big East crumbled during the offseason the Orange and Panthers were two of the marquee programs in the conference. The two squads always enjoyed a competitive rivalry as Big East foes, with Pittsburgh owning a slim 34-31-3 edge in the all-time series. Syracuse held off a late charge from the Panthers to secure a 14-13 win a year ago.
The Panthers scored 17 points in the fourth quarter but it wasn't enough to overcome North Carolina. Scoring in bunches has not been a strength for the Panthers this season as they are managing just 26.4 points per game, while ranking second to last in the league in total offense (348.1 ypg).
Tom Savage did everything he could to keep the Panthers from falling to North Carolina, as he threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-38 passing. However, Savage was rarely comfortable in the pocket as he was sacked seven times. Despite shaky protection this year Savage has turned in a fine season with 2,335 yards and 18 touchdowns, completing 61 percent of his pass attempts.
The duo of Tyler Boyd and Devin Street has given Savage two very productive targets to work with. Boyd (58 receptions, 821 yards, six TDs) leads the team in receptions after he had five for 92 yards against North Carolina. Street also had five receptions, though for 81 yards and a score, against the Tar Heels. Street, the school's all-time receptions leader, has grabbed 49 passes for 847 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns on the year. No other receiver on the team has more than 25 catches or 235 yards.
The Panthers' ground game has been shared between a tandem of backs in Isaac Bennett and James Conner. Each has over 100 carries this year though Bennett leads the team in yards (626, six TDs) while Conner has had more scores (seven) to go with 522 yards rushing. Conner had 102 yards and a touchdown against North Carolina, while Bennett was limited to 26 yards on 12 carries.
What has kept Pittsburgh competitive this season is the defense. Although the Panthers rank 11th in the league in scoring defense (26.9 ppg), they are in the top half of the ACC when it comes to total yards allowed (370.6 ypg). All- American candidate Aaron Donald (22.5 TFL, 10.0 sacks) has been a destructive power for the Panthers up front as he leads the country in tackles for loss. Ray Vinopal (60 tackles, three INTs) leads an effective pass defense.
Even though their weak showing against Florida State can be blamed on the level of competition they were facing, the Orange haven't been that productive offensively this year, ranking in the bottom half of the ACC in total yards (371.6 ypg) and scoring (22.4 ppg).
After Drew Allen struggled to start the season, Terrel Hunt has taken over under center for the Orange. However, Hunt hasn't been that productive either with just 1,021 yards and seven touchdowns on 58.4 percent passing. Hunt has been much better in ball security as he has seven interceptions this year, while Allen has thrown nine picks to just two touchdowns passes in seven games in which he has made an appearance.
Wideout Jarrod West (21 receptions, 359 yards, TD) has shown some big-play ability, while Ashton Broyld (36 receptions, 339 yards) and Christopher Clark (27 receptions, 276 yards, three TDs) are the only other receivers with more than 200 yards through the air.
Where the Orange have had some success on offense is in running the ball. Jerome Smith (730 yards, 10 TDs) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (440 yards, four TDs) are quite the duo out of the backfield, while Hunt (323 yards, four TDs) can make plays with his legs as well. Smith and Gulley didn't have any success in the loss to Florida State, as they combined for a single yard on six attempts.
The Orange are allowing 382.5 yards of total offense and 26.5 points per game. Both marks have them ranked near the middle of the pack in the ACC. Durell Eskridge (66 tackles, four INTs) leads the team in tackles and interceptions and Jay Bromley (9.0 sacks) is the most effective defender in rushing the passer.
These teams were evenly matched a year ago and fought to a one-point decision. With Savage under center the Panthers have a major advantage on offense and that might lead to more separation this time around.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Pittsburgh 24, Syracuse 23
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