Pitt is the underdog in today’s game against Syracuse, but the Panthers still have a pretty reasonable path to victory. Here are three things that I think are important for Pitt to win.
Keep Max Browne upright
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi specifically mentioned this one in his weekly press conference. The Panthers proved last week that they can move the ball if they keep pressure away from quarterback Max Browne. Browne was sacked four times but, in general, also had time to throw and make plays. Even against a weak pass rush in Syracuse’s, I still expect Browne to be sacked at least a few times. But Pitt needs to protect him at all costs and let him sit in the pocket and make throws.
Keep Syracuse’s receivers out of the end zone
Pitt won’t stop Orange wideouts Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips. Those two form one of college football’s most lethal receiving combinations and will make some plays. But as I wrote earlier, they’ve also struggled a little to score touchdowns with only four touchdowns combined despite the fact that they have nearly 100 catches this year. Pitt can give up some plays to those guys but they can’t let Syracuse complete the long touchdowns they did in last year’s game with Amba Etta-Tawo. Pitt’s offense simply doesn’t have enough firepower to come close to matching last year’s output.
Establish the running game
Pitt’s running game has been a bit of a debacle most of this year and the news that George Aston won’t play doesn’t make things any easier. Still, the Panthers need to find a way to get the running game going on Saturday. First, they need to show Syracuse there’s a real threat to do some damage there so they’re not playing the pass all day. They also need to win the time of possession battle to keep Syracuse’s dangerous offense from being on the field. Time of possession is one of those stats that’s sometimes meaningless. That’s particularly true in games where Pitt has been torched by passing offenses scoring at will and quickly. But Pitt’s best shot to win this game is with a score in the 20s and hogging the ball and keeping the Orange offense off the field would be a start.