Protect the Passer
I have a feeling this is going to be a recurring theme from now through the end of the season. Given the struggles of SU’s offensive line and given Tommy DeVito’s recent injury, keeping the redshirt sophomore quarterback upright is going to be a top priority from here on out. Making this of even greater importance against Pittsburgh is the fact that the Panthers currently have the second-most sacks in the country behind only Ohio State. Pat Narduzzi is going to have his guys blitz and then they’re going to blitz some more. Pitt has recorded 27 sacks through six games. On the flip side, Syracuse has given up the fourth-most sacks in all of FBS football — 26 through six games. Only Akron, Old Dominion, and the Miami quarterbacks have been sacked more. That’s not a good combination. In order for the Orange to put itself in a position to win this game, the O-Line is going to have to play much better than it has to date.
Less Penalties, Please
The O-Line can help out with this one, too. Syracuse is ranked 124th in the country in terms of penalties. Only Tulane, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, and Tulsa have been flagged more this season. The Orange has been penalized 55 times for 444 yards — that’s an average of more than nine accepted flags per game. The average went up last week as SU was penalized 12 times against NC State and several of them were key calls. The first two drives of the game stalled, in large part, because of penalties. The same thing happened on the final possession when two false starts contributed to the Orange running out of time. ‘Cuse can’t continue to shoot itself in the foot if it hopes to win these toss-up games in a wide open ACC conference.
Be Special Again
Vegas has had the line for this game hovering around a field goal all week. It’s not a surprise that Syracuse is once again the underdog, it’s also not a surprise that the oddsmakers believe this game will be close. Five of the last seven meetings have been decided by a single possession, including last year’s game at Heinz Field which went into overtime. As we all know, oftentimes, close games are decided by special teams. If that’s the case on Friday night, then advantage Syracuse. Not only does the Orange feature an NFL-caliber punter in Sterling Hofrichter, but SU also benefits from having the reigning Lou Groza Award winner on its roster. Andre Szmyt may have missed a 44-yard field goal last week, but he has proven to be much more reliable than Pitt’s kicker. Alex Kessman has converted just six of his 12 field goal tries in 2019. If this game is tight throughout, as expected, then a solid performance from the SU special teams unit may be just enough to help the Orange get its season back on track with a much-needed win.
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