Byline: Chris Logue
Welcome back to yet another preview! This time is quite a bit more cheerful than most, but is the glee warranted after achieving a low-lying win against some moist Asian cuisine? Eh, I am not quite sure.
Syracuse at a Glance
Record: (2-3, 6th in Atlantic)
PPG F/A: 32.6/24.4
Leading Passer: Eric Dungey (63.7% 1437 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4 interceptions)
Leading Rusher: Eric Dungey (68 carries, 277 yards, 7 touchdowns)
Leading Receiver: Steve Ishmael (51 receptions, 632 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Quickly recapping last week against Rice. The offense looked just okay, the defense was serviceable and exciting to watch, albeit in cruise control due to one of the worst opposing quarterbacks I have ever seen. Max Browne still looks incredibly uncomfortable, and it’s almost in everything he does. Walking off the side line to the huddle, breaking the huddle and walking into the locker room at half; he just doesn’t look comfortable.
Listen, his performance was nice and he showed some flashes with some mustard in his throws, but this week he could be the meat mashed between a hot dog bun if he doesn’t keep his head on a swivel against the Dino Babers‘ Syracuse defense. It’s not that Syracuse does much of anything special, they’re just considerably more athletic on the defensive side of the ball than last week’s opponent.
It begins and ends with senior linebacker Zaire Franklin who is a mauler at his position. He brings to the table zero sacks to this point in the season, but is unabashed when it comes to sticking his nose in every tackle opportunity. If the ball is within 1.8 miles, you can bet he will be around. The rest of the defense is the same way, they flock. There is nothing to suggest this game will be any different. Babers has been outspoken this week in clarifying how ‘needed’ this game is for the Orange. Coming off two straight losses to solid teams (jury is still out on LSU), it’s clear they have their eyes set on some Panthers.
The Orange defense is far from being a stud unit, but it’s a group that doesn’t back down to their opponents and are always able to keep their team, and especially the offense, in the game. Two weeks ago, against LSU, the offense started sluggish and really did not find its groove until the second half. Last week against NC State, late in the second quarter and into the second half. What that tells me is that Dino and staff are effective at dissecting what the other team is offering in the moment and adjusts, but more importantly, the proper adjustments. That could spell trouble for Pitt, on the defensive side of the ball.
I feel it’s forgotten that the Syracuse offense, the one that scored 61 points in Pittsburgh last season was directed by Zack Mahoney, the fifth string (quite possibly the sixth) quarterback on the Syracuse roster heading into the season. It’s a different offense, a much more potent offense with Eric Dungey running the show. Much, much more potent.
The corners for Pitt are going to best tested, quite a damn bit. How good are they, well get ready to find out. As described at the beginning, Dungey is the leading rusher as well as passer for the Orange, and that’s been heavily proven to be an issue for the Pitt defense in the past, but more recently, two weeks ago. No, Dungey is not TaQuon Marshall, but he is sure better than Greg Paulus and his point guard instincts.
Anyways, back to the corners, it’s going to be tough when they are continually trotted out on their own island. Whitehead will find himself in the mix in the box for a grand portion of the day with the escaping nature of Dungey.
Receiving is the only category in which Dungey doesn’t lead. That crown goes to the 310-year senior, Steve Ishmael. If that name isn’t familiar, how about his nickname: The Guy Who Likes to Play Pitt. In 2014, Ishmael yielded six catches for 97 yards. 2015, seven receptions for 114 yards and a score. In 2016 he slacked, only due to the emergence of Amba Etta-Tawo who enjoyed 13 receptions and 178 yards to join his five touchdowns.
Ishmael remains as dynamic of a receiver as you’ll find in the nation. It’s rarity for Syracuse, but is something they have enjoyed for two straight seasons. If I had to compare his impact for Syracuse to a former Panther with the same impact for Pitt, it would be Dorin Dickerson. Few can defend him and few can keep up, a deadly combination.