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Weekly Kickoff: Pitt looks to finish season strong with win against Syracuse

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Only a few weeks ago, Pitt's season was in doubt. The Panthers were 5-4 and by everyone's account, on their way to being 5-5 after a date with Clemson. But the team not only won that one, they annihilated Duke this weekend, 56-14. At 7-5, the Panthers will have a chance to win their eighth regular season game if they can knock off Syracuse on Saturday.

That eighth straight win would be significant. It would be the second straight year the team won eighth regular season games for the first time since the Dave Wannstedt era.

Pitt can't afford to take Syracuse for granted, but this is certainly a game the Panthers should win. They are a better team than the Orange and also get the game at home.

Syracuse is only 4-7 on the year and, really, they have only one win of any significance, shocking Virginia Tech a few weeks back. The Orange's other victories have come against Colgate, UConn, and Boston College. Syracuse has not been a good team this year and further hurting their chance against Pitt is the fact that they will likely be without starting quarterback Eric Dungey, who was knocked out of the Clemson game a few weeks ago. Head coach Dino Babers has already said he is not likely to start against Pitt.

So, what's there to know about Syracuse this season? With Dungey, they had one of the premier passing attacks in the country, averaging over 300 yards through the air per game. Without him? Not so much. Backup and probable starter Zack Mahoney has been decent, but not stellar. In the last two weeks when he's started, Mahoney didn't crack 200 yards in passing. With wideout Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse is more than capable of going to the air, though. Etta-Tawo not only leads the ACC in receiving, but the next closest guy, Clemson's Mike Williams, is a full 290 yards behind him. On the season, Etta-Tawo has 81 catches for 1,304 yards and nine touchdowns. Even without Dungey, Syracuse's passing game should still concern Pitt.

Unfortunately, it's not been nearly enough for Syracuse to win games. With only 109.7 yards per game, the Orange's running game is one of the worst in the nation and against Pitt's strong run defense, it only emphasizes the need to stop the pass even more.

Defensively, Syracuse has been a mess. They rank near the bottom of the country in run defense (96th), pass defense (96th), total defense (119th), and scoring defense (108th). If there's one thing Pitt should do on Saturday, it's score. A lot.

As if that weren't enough, the Orange are also one of the most heavily penalized teams in the country, averaging over eight penalties for more than 60 yards per game.

While Syracuse boasts the strong passing game, I'm not sure they'll be able to remain too competitive with that defense - particularly if Pitt's secondary has another good showing as they did last week. Add it all up and the Panthers have an excellent shot to win their eighth game of the season.

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