Syracuse hosts Pitt hoping to break two-game skid
SYRACUSE (AP) — Syracuse coach Dino Babers hasn’t enjoyed reviewing tape of last year’s game at Pittsburgh, and for good reason.
The Orange were on the short end of a 76-61 loss at Heinz Field . The 2016 season finale was the highest-scoring regular-season game in FBS history as both teams combined for 1,312 yards of total offense and a record 20 touchdowns.
Not so easy to forget.
“I’ve never been through something like that before. You really didn’t have time to think. It took your breath away and you were totally exhausted after the game,” Babers said. “I was exhausted with the loss and the other guy (Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi) was exhausted with the win.
“I’m not sure I ever want to go through it again, either, unless we’re going to win the doggone thing.”
That might not be so great, either.
“If I was a defensive coordinator, I’d be really, really miserable,” Narduzzi said. “As a head coach, I was only a little bit miserable.”
The teams meet again on Saturday, this time in the Carrier Dome, and come in with identical records — 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) — in what is a critical game for both teams. The Panthers are fresh from a convincing 42-10 victory over Rice. The Orange have lost two straight on the road — both by single digits to LSU and North Carolina State — and have dropped five straight in conference play dating to last year.
Syracuse’s top two tacklers — senior linebackers Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett — were nonfactors last year because of injuries. Bennett is healthy and Franklin is listed as probable for this game.
“We’ll work really hard to make sure something like that (last year’s game) doesn’t happen again,” Babers said. “They’re coming into our place hot, and we desperately need a win.”
Other things to know when Pittsburgh visits Syracuse on Saturday:
DYNAMIC DUO: Record-setting receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, a transfer from Maryland, completed his one-year Syracuse career last November against Pitt with 13 receptions for 178 yards and five touchdowns. The Orange don’t figure to miss a beat with senior wideouts Steve Ishmael and Erv Philips.
Ishmael has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in every game and leads the nation with 10.2 catches per game while Philips is third at 8.8. The two have a combined 95 catches for 1,052 yards and four TDs.
MAX IS BACK … MAYBE: The two-man tug of war at quarterback for Pitt appears to be over. Graduate transfer Max Browne put the competition between himself and sophomore Ben DiNucci to rest — for now — after lighting up Rice for 410 yards and four touchdowns.
“Max is back, and we’ve just got to keep him that way, and we’ve got to be able to throw the ball this weekend, for sure,” Narduzzi said.
For the first time all season, Browne had the time and the confidence to go deep regularly. Four different receivers had at least one reception of at least 20 yards against Rice. The Panthers entered the game near the bottom of the country in yards per completion.
UNDER ATTACK: The Panthers are ranked 106th in the country against the pass, though that’s actually an improvement over a year ago, when Pitt was next-to-last in the nation. The resume included allowing 440 yards to the Orange.
Narduzzi doesn’t feel quite as wary this time around. The return of safety Jordan Whitehead from suspension and the improvement of Dane Jackson at corner have given the secondary a bit more bite.
“They want to get matchups. Sure, they are going to try to go after our safeties, and I would, too,” Narduzzi said. “So we have got to shore up what we are doing with those guys, how we are doing it. And you know, they can go after the corners. I hope they go after the corners because I feel good about who those guys are out there right now. I feel a lot better than we did last year at this game.”
THE DUNGEY FACTOR: Last year backup QB Zack Mahoney started against Pitt in place of Eric Dungey, who missed the final three games of the season. Mahoney tied a school record with five TD passes and also ran for 49 yards and two TDs in finishing with 489 yards in total offense, the second-best total at Syracuse.
Dungey is much more experienced and a more dangerous dual threat, and he, too, is healthy. Dungey ranks in the top 10 nationally in completions per game (27) and total offense (342.8 yards).
DOME HOME: The Carrier Dome once was a house of horrors for Pitt. The Panthers are 8-10-1 there but 6-2 in their last eight visits. Pitt also has won 11 of the past 12 games in the series.