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.
Ishmael lines up predominantly on the left, that means Dane Jackson will draw the assignment. To be honest, I think it’s a better match-up than having Maddox shadow him all day. Jackson has a better frame to deal with the 6-foot-2 receiver. Look for Damarri Mathis to spell Jackson when he’s not on the field.
Going into the week, Syracuse has been unimpressive with their average yards-per-carry from the running back position. 3.5 is all they have been able to muster as an average, but are highly effective in using their fullback, like how Pitt used George Aston in 2016. Babers likes to use a plethora of receivers in the running game, too. The greatest difference in comparison to Pitt, they are calculated attempts that pay off.
This game serves more important to Syracuse than for the Panthers. Now I am not saying that to act prissy and to use it as leverage for after the game should they lose. But, looking at the remaining schedule, this is quite possibly the last game they have a chance to win, or are favored until week 12.
Reed: One of the great things about having this blog is that I have an opportunity to talk to hundreds of different Pitt fans and have an email correspondence with a lot also. Just yesterday I have received an email from a POVer who stated “Sadly I will keep predicting losses until our rushing attack gets better” … to paraphrase.
And isn’t that the truth in a nutshell? I think we all expected a difference in our offense from 2016 to 2017 but I don’t think anyone truly expected our offense of line to be as bad as it is and that’s affecting the running game as poorly as it is shown up so far in our first five games.
They held LSU to 151 yards on the ground, then they gave up 256 yards to North Carolina State the next week which is their season average so far. So if we cannot run against the defense of Syracuse then I think we have insurmountable problems for the rest of the season against the other eight ACC teams that might be better than the Syracuse Orangemen are.
And since Pitt is currently averaging 69 yards per game on the ground, yes that is correct 69 yards total on the ground, in their first five games, it looks like we might get shut down again this week and I would not be surprised at all.
We talked earlier during the offseason and during the fall camp about the prospects of the Offensive Line and trying to replace Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson with Jared Jones Smith and Alex officer. Writing about them I was not convinced that we were going to see anything but a big drop in quality and speed in those positions.
Lots of Pitt fans saw things differently… but as it turns out it’s not just those two linemen; it’s across the board and the fact that we have no depth whatsoever on that line. Our better OL players left over from Paul Chryst’s regime, Mike Grimm, who was shown the door after his hip surgery last year, and would-be rsSRs Aaron Reese and Carson Baker are all gone now having been told to get on with their lives by the staff.
Huh, sure as hell could have used those three guys now; or maybe two depending if Grimm could have come back from that hip injury.
But here is another aspect of the OL that we discussed sometime ago but haven’t brought up since and that is the OL coach John Peterson. Again, Pitt fans felt he was the right guy at the right place and I had countered “Let’s wait see what he does with Narduzzi’s OL recruits” and Hot Damn!… now we are seeing it.
It was easy to produce a great offensive line when he had all those starting OL studs that Chryst recruited. But now he’s having to deal with a mixture of Narduzzi’s OL recruits (and transfers) also in the rotations and it isn’t working out so well.
Youth isn’t the excuse here either – eight of 10 OL two-deep players are rsJRs and rsSRs. Folks – they are also the basis of our returning OL for 2018.
I suspected Peterson was an average coach but had fantastic talent on hand and I believe this season has confirmed that. We have to give credit where due for his leading and coaching that great OL last season – but we are in for a rough road ahead on the OL in my opinion.
Here is a list of our past three year’s opening game’s starting five OL – along with this week’s five going up against SYR…
|Year||Left Tackle||Left Guard||Center||Right Guard||Right Tackle|
But here is what worries me – the basis of the 2018 OL will be populated with names like Bookser, Drake, Dintino, Morrissey, Herndon, Pilato, etc… They do not strike fear in opposing DC’s hearts.
Notes: Here’s a good piece on Penn State’s running back Shaquan Barkley and the history he has behind him with other Penn State running backs as far as making it into the NFL – written by Mike Wysocki of the Pittsburgh City paper.
A poster yesterday mentioned their “Mount Rushmore of Rock Bands” and I thought that was a perfect phrase that also got me thinking about which bands I listened to, saw in person and effected me the most when I was growing up. So here are my four ‘best’ bands…
- The Allman Brothers
- The Grateful Dead
- Little Feat Ahhhh… Bonnie Raitt
- The Band Now you know why Bob Dylan asked Mavis staples to marry him
I saw all of these bands live and still listen today – honorable mention would be very long but I’ll throw out Santana, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan (all who I also saw live).