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October 3, 2012

Keeping The Orange Down

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s) — Chas @ 10:34 am

The good thoughts for Syracuse, they have played well in their small sample size of Friday night home games. That sample size is primarily last year’s beatdown on West Virginia. Getting them out to a 5-2 start before losing five straight, including the season finale versus Pitt. The bad news, they haven’t beaten Pitt since Paul Pasqualoni was still in charge.

The Orange will receive a boost with the return of 2011 All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh, who’s been out with a Calf injury. Pugh says he has his own motivation heading into Friday’s game.

“It’s my first game back,” says an excited Pugh, “I‘ve never beaten Pitt so I’m a little amped for that, I’m just ready to get out there and play and beat these guys.”

Seven straight years of losses to Pitt. The only team in the Big East, against whom Wannstedt was perfect. Let that sink in for a bit.

Pugh was also coming back from off-season shoulder surgery. Something that had more to do with his absence in the first four games than the calf injury.

With Pugh returning, the Syracuse O-line gets a bit of a makeover.

The Orange featured a new-look right side of the offensive line, with sophomore Sean Hickey moving from left tackle to right tackle to make room for 2011 All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh and redshirt freshman Rob Trudo playing extensively with the first team at right guard. Trudo and fellow redshirt freshman Ivan Foy have played in a rotation this season with Foy getting the starting nod until now.

Syracuse has been heavily reliant on the pass so far this season. Ryan Nassib has been throwing almost 45 times a game, piling up over 340 yards/game. The rushing, however, has not been nearly so active. They have a total of 583 rushing yards and have the 83rd ranked rushing attack in 1-A. Just Ray Graham and Rushel Shell have more yards than the entire Syracuse team. My guess is that if Pugh is close to full strength, Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone will try to do more with the running game.

The question is, how much do they deviate from their offense to this point. Yes, they are 1-3 — and with a bad loss to Minnesota — but they have been able to score points. Ryan Nassib has been very good. And much like the pros, it seems that the college game has been more about the passing offense.

Through the first month of the season, 25 schools are averaging 300 or more passing yards per game, including Syracuse. That’s a dramatic increase from the previous five seasons when there was an average of only 10.8 teams surpassing that total.

The Orange are 10th (341.8), with quarterback Ryan Nassib first in the Big East and sixth in the nation. Pitt is 26th (299.2), with quarterback Tino Sunseri second and 20th (286).

Scoring is similarly on an upward track, with 20 teams averaging 40 or more points per game. Over the past five seasons, the average is 7.4 teams, with only two hitting that mark in 2009.

Pressed on the subject, Chryst admitted the game has changed.

“If you looked at it offensively and defensively, the film would look different than 10 years ago,” he said. “The spread has had an impact. Defensively, there are probably a lot more pressures (on the quarterback).”

Chryst said Nassib’s numbers have less to do with Syracuse (1-3) trying to catch up late in games and more with the three-year starter’s ability to make plays.

“I imagine they are saying, ‘Who’s our best player?’ It’s a pretty good plan. Put it in his hands, a guy who can make good decisions,” Chryst said. “He’s confident in what he’s doing and knows where he wants to go with the ball. I think he likes those situations (at the end of the game). He has a lot of qualities from afar that you admire, or I do.”

I have to admit, after the previous two years of watching Ryan Nassib play, it is hard to imagine him as one of the best players on Syracuse. Kind of the Cuse version of Sunseri.

The other part of the equation is that the Syracuse running backs don’t appear to be on the level of the Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey. Their receivers, though, are quite good and all three starting WRs are averaging over 10 yards/catch. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on the Pitt corners. Especially redshirt freshman, Lafayette Pitts.

Pitts said he expects the Orange to run a lot of short routes, and then try to catch the Panthers biting on a double-move for a deep pass. To avoid that, Pitts will have to maintain discipline with his eyes, a mental aspect of the game he has been working to improve since training camp.

Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable employs a virtually exclusive man-to-man scheme, and Pitts, as the field corner, will handle whichever receiver lines up on his side.

“It is [difficult] in certain coverages because when you can see the whole offense progressing to you, you’ve got to stay disciplined to your receiver,” Pitts said. “Your eyes can get stuck in the backfield sometimes.”

Pitts does look to become an excellent corner, but this will be a tough game for him. As an aside, I imagine the present coaches were quite happy that Pitts was redshirted last year.

Like Pitt, Syracuse had a bye week. Like Pitt, they were working on the fundamentals: penalties, turnovers and red-zone offense.

“During the bye week we’ve paid more attention to those things … turnovers, penalties and situations during the course of a game which are really hurting us. Those are the things that we’ve worked on,” Orange coach Doug Marrone said Monday during the weekly Big East coaches teleconference.

SU’s struggles with turnovers, penalties, special teams and red-zone offense cost the Orange in its opening loss to Northwestern and prevented the team from being in its last game at Minnesota.

“We’re getting ready for a team coming in that is very talented, up front and in the running back position — very aggressive and sound in what they do defensively,” Marrone said of the Panthers. “We have a great challenge, but we have to give ourselves an opportunity — and that’s what we’re not doing right now.”

The bye week has also been about getting players healthy. In addition to the aforementioned Pugh, they are looking to get junior WR Adrian Fleming and kick returner Steve Rene. Starting CB, Brandon Reddish, does not appear to be healthy for this game.

On the Syracuse defense, they are focusing on the run. An area of concern as they bookend their own 83rd ranked rushing offense with the 83rd best rushing defense.

Stopping the off-tackle run has been an adventure for the Orange defense this season, which will enter the contest ranked No. 83 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 176.25 yards per game. Lately, the team has turned more to junior-college transfer Zian Jones (6-foot-4, 309 pounds) to help plug the holes. Jones has joined sophomore Eric Crume in a rotation at tackle behind starters Jay Bromley and Deon Goggins.

“Zian has done an outstanding job,” coach Doug Marrone said. “You talk about someone who loves playing football and is really enjoying himself, and you talk about someone who of all our players has probably changed his body type (the most). He’s gone from about 340 pounds to about 309. The energy level is there, the reps are starting to increase, so we’re very excited about his development in helping us on the inside.”

For Coach Paul Chryst, as we have already come to expect. It is about practicing. Getting reps. Getting better. Progressing.

But, in his usual modest fashion, Chryst said Monday that the team did not spend the bye week celebrating their recent wins. He said his players were working hard and continuing to progress.

“The bye came at a time where it’s an opportunity for us to get better,” Chryst said. “It wasn’t all perfect the last two games.

“I hope we’re getting better and not just trying to ride that wave. Each week, each game is its own opportunity, and you have to rise up for that, not trying to hold on to something.”

That might be the good thing for Chryst coming out of a bye week. Pitt has — to put it mildly — struggled after bye weeks to have any focus. The last seven years, they have been 4-10 coming off the bye (3-9 under Wannstedt, 1-1 with Graham). Chryst, after every game has made each game a separate entity. Detached. It is the next game, it starts over. He doesn’t seem to by into momentum from one game to the next. It is about building, learning and improving each week.

Finally, for the human interest, local high school angle: former Central Catholic players/friends will be facing each other.

Will be interesting to see how Graham looks after the bye, I think he’s been rounding into form and will look even better after having rested a little. The other thing that encourages me is something that I caught in one of Chryst’s interviews. I can’t remember which one it was but he mentioned that every player had some individual goals during the bye week to help them improve. First I’ve ever heard that from a HC before. Maybe they all do it but never talk about it. Maybe Chryst has a different approach. Anyway, it seems like it would keep the team focused. I am cautiously optimistic…

Comment by Atlanta Panther 10.03.12 @ 11:17 am

Two weeks ago, I predicted that Pitt would come out passing against Gardner Webb which was pretty much the case albeit for the long TD run by Graham.

Against Cuse, I look for the emphasis to return to the run game as Chryst tries to pound the ball and control the clock to keep the Cuse QB and his receivers off the field.

A bit worried about this one though. See it as a possible stumble game as a result of players’ mistakes like turnovers and penalties.

Otherwise Pitt should pull this one out given that they are the better team.

One thing in their favor is the apparent decision to abandon the “All Whites.” Cam Saddler says the team has taken notice of the trend of poor performances associated with wearing the white jersey/white pants combo.

Going back to the Iowa game last year, I have posted several times about the all white uniforms being a “jinx.” It started with what I believe was the first time the uniforms were unveiled which was in Morgantown during the Wannsted era. The outcome was not good.

The question is why the jinx? Why is it that wearing the uniforms seems to result in disappointing losses in big away games?

My best guess on the matter is that the uniforms are simply too much of a break with tradition.

Last check Pitt’s colors were Old Gold and Navy… and I’m sure for many Pittsters there is no problem with Dark Mustard and Navy together with a Script.

Lesson to be learned, it’s one thing to talk about tradition. It’s quite another to wear it and do so with pride.

Pitt Admin should take note.

Comment by PittofDreams 10.03.12 @ 11:22 am

It DID take awhile for that to sink in.

Sounds like we need to stop their passing game and they need to stop our running game. Here’s hoping Graham and Shell are better than Nassib this week.

Comment by longsufferingpittfan 10.03.12 @ 11:35 am

Our scheduling woes may be over. ESPN reporting the ACC will revert back to an 8-game conference schedule after the addition of ND. This will allow us to schedule a FCS, a MAC, and perhaps two marquee opponents (i.e ND, PSU, or WVU)

Comment by Timmeh 10.03.12 @ 12:58 pm

VIDEO: ‘View from the Left Lane’ with Todd Graham

Latest head line on SB Nation web site.

Has anyone heard this one before?

Lov’n PC H2P

Comment by Tackle made by Hugh 10.03.12 @ 1:22 pm

Timmeh, that would be great news on the scheduling front. Given the ubiquitous push-over game, a 9 game conference schedule only leaves 2 open slots which likely means only one non-conference marquee opponent. That frankly makes for a disappointing schedule. The ACC has some very interesting teams like FSU, Clemson, and Miami but the rest are at best up and down depending upon the year.
Not sure I care if we ever play WVU again but if PSU can’t become a regular non-conf game, then maybe I’d re-think my view.
As for ND, as much as I may not care for them as an entity, its always good exposure to have them on your schedule, even when they are only mediocre. I’m heading to SB this year for the game and if the unlikely were to happen and Pitt won out between now and the ND game, it could be a game with a bit of national interest.
However, with Pitt now having to share ND with the rest of the ACC this annual game is likely in jeopardy after the current contract runs out.
How about a Pitt-Wisc match-up in the future? I’d love to see that game with all the obvious storylines.

Comment by Taxing Matters 10.03.12 @ 1:37 pm

We are not good enough to “expect” to beat anybody this year, even if we’ve owned them in the past, remember YSU.

I also hate the Whities. Looks like we’re out playing in our long underwear. Plus, except for the helmets, they remind way too much of the ped state uniforms which of course produces spontaneous waves of nausea when I think about it.

And longsufferingpittfan, please don’t leave out Sir Isaac Bennett when doing our running back shout outs. When predicting our significant offensive contributors for this game, this guy could still be poised for a breakout year given the opportunity to get a few more carries.

Comment by Dr. Tom 10.03.12 @ 2:11 pm

While the ACC hasn’t said how they’ll structure the 8-game schedule, I hope they do away with the permanent partner [Syracuse] and leave the two crossover games .. that means seeing the other division every 4 years .. they also said ND will start an ACC schedule next year (which could be tough to pull off) – if they do, probably means ND @ Pitt next year will be our first in the rotation and ’14 won’t happen; ’15 is doubtful; ’16 is the next likely.

Comment by TheHoopZebra 10.03.12 @ 2:17 pm

I always hated the byes when we were playing well. You can make an argument that a bye put the seal on Wanny being shown the door. 2 years ago, Pitt had wins at Syracuse and at home vs Rutgers and Louisville — and none of these games were ever in doubt. And then the bye, followed by that loss on a Thurs night in UConn.

On the other hand, in 08 Pitt lost to Bowling Green and then struggled at home vs Buffalo, but after a bye, looked much better in beating an undefeated Iowa team .. thus, the bye helped.

I like the fact that Cuse is not good vs run … and hope that Pitt will use this to their advantage late in the game when Cuse is wore down. I do expect them to pack the line (a la Gardner Webb) in the beginning so hope the passing game shakes off the rust prety quickly.

Comment by wbb 10.03.12 @ 4:01 pm

Early season stats(both individual & team) are ALWAYS tainted as teams play their non-cons. And those non-con’s almost always include the RENT-A-WINS from low D1 or D2 where these stats get extremely padded.

I don’t expect to see Nassib or Sunseri anywhere close to the Top 25 in passing as the season gets into conference play across the nation.

Even with some real pourous defenses in the BigLeast ! Think Uconn, USF, Cuse, Temple

Comment by EMel 10.03.12 @ 4:33 pm

On the Pedogate front.

Mike McQueary (the only person at PSU EVER to speak up about the pedomonster) has filed a $4 Million suit against Ped State.

link to

Seems the poor guy is being blackballed in the coaching fraternity, er I mean industry.
Go figure. (he was the ONLY Ped State coach not interviewed by the current cheat at Ped State)

Hey, but who cares WE ARE PED STATE and we beat mighty Illinois this past Saturday.

(see how Ped State still qualifies as our Main rival despite not playing them, notice the multiple disparaging remarks)

Comment by EMel 10.03.12 @ 4:52 pm

Curious to see if Shell from VT or from GW shows up at ‘Cuse. He absolutely mauled Tech but was strangely ineffective at GW…he is a true freshman so I guess its not too surprising he has his ups and downs — but GW stacked the line up pretty well also…other than Ray Ray’s big run, you have to be impressed by their effort.

If ‘Cuse doesn’t absolutely bring the ‘jailbreak’ on pressuring Tino — especially after his last two games — their DC is dumber than dumb. Can it be any more clear when he is good and when he is bad? Reminds me of certain point guards in college over the years…guys who can’t go to their left — some teams over guard to the right and he’s done, other’s oddly don’t and he’ll take it to the rim every time.

Never underestimate the power of stupid in athletics.

Comment by Matt N. 10.03.12 @ 4:55 pm

Great post EMel. A cool move to both lend a hand to the only guy who tried to do the right thing in a tough environment and kind of stick it to PSU — have Pitt hire the kid?! Why not, he’s clearly got character and he’d be oh so motivated to hyper recruit central and eastern PA for us to beat them for big recruits.

Comment by Matt N. 10.03.12 @ 4:59 pm

ND entering the ACC comes less than a year AFTER PITT/Syracuse entering the ACC.

Read where Syracuse intends to play more games at New Giants stadium (MetLife Stadium or something) as they did this year against USC, as they intend on becoming NYC’s team. So you can bet that when ND visits Cuse it will be in NYC at MetLife Stadium. That will be big for the ACC, playing ND in a soldout MetLife. With Syracuse, Boston College, PITT and now Notre Dame, now all playing basketball in the ACC, how long before the ACC tournament is held at MSG ? As Duke plays there annually as well and UNC is UNC.

Now… since I feel alot of hatred on this board for ND (so that should move them up the list of most hated rivals), did the ACC only use us & Cuse as a way to lure ND into the conference ?

And thus gain entry into NYC without having to invite the dreaded Rutgers. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Schiano caught wind of this and off he went to TB. Because if you have Syracuse playing in MetLife Stadium, there is absolutely no reason at all to invite Rutgers. And who wants to coach in a league with no automatic qualifier into a Big Bowl, as BE has had since the BCS was created.

It’s all pretty interesting how this all come about and played out. I have just one thing to say.


Comment by EMel 10.03.12 @ 5:13 pm

Oh yea the game this week. Key to the game is will PITT be able to pressure Cusies QB, Nassib.
If they don’t.. he will pick us apart worse than the YSU QB or Munchie. He had a huge game against Northwestern in a 1 point loss and Syracause was only down 5 or 6 heading into the 4rth Quarter vs. then #2 USC. So don’t let their 1-3 record fool you. Nassib is definately the best QB we’ve played to date. Might be the best one we play all year !

On the plus side Nassib will be seeing the 3rd different PITT defensive scheme in the 3 times he’s played us.

The shuffling in the Cuse O-line could be beneficial even though they’re getting back their best lineman. You have the one tackle flip flopping to the other side, so I would really attack that side.

If we’ve learned anything in the first 4 games about the offense (and this is a constant theme in the Sunseri era), is PITT has to play from ahead, not behind. So no fumbles, picks in the 1rst Quarter please.

So again score first and then second, play from ahead and the Front Defensive 7 must apply pressure to Nassib. Oh and to keep their offense OFF the field as much as possible, let’s run it down their throat ala VT.


Comment by EMel 10.03.12 @ 5:37 pm

Hey now. This is a 1-3 team we are playing right? They lost 3 games to 2 above average teams and one average team and struggled in their 4th game against SB so I’m not handing them the national championship trophy just yet.
I want to see if our coaching staff has adjusted to the road and if our players can punch Syracuse right in the mouth.
I don’t have feelings for games anymore…just don’t want to idolize anyone.

Comment by SFPitt 10.03.12 @ 9:17 pm

EMel – on the other hand Nassib had only 228 yards with two INTs against Minnesota his last time out.

He’ll get his yardage but I think he’ll turn the ball over also.

Comment by Reed 10.04.12 @ 9:43 am

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