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Pitt-Syracuse Q&A with Orange Blog TNIAAM

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Pittsburgh v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Had a chance to catch up with John Cassillo of SB Nation’s excellent Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician. Below, I’ve got some questions I sent over him that he answered. And also be sure to head over there to read my answers to his questions.

My questions are in bold below followed by his responses in italics.

A lot of Pitt fans would look at North Carolina’s 31-6 win over Syracuse and assume that the Orange were just dominated. But the game was a close one until the fourth quarter. For those that didn’t watch the game, what happened in that quarter to turn a close game into one that looked like a romp?

Syracuse could’ve easily been up a few scores by the third quarter if not for a called back (SU committed an unnecessary penalty) punt return TD, missed field goal and dropped TD pass. But struggles to take advantage of opportunities meant we had a tight game through three, and a gassed defense due to offensive inefficiency. By the time we got to the fourth, UNC took advantage of the exhaustion and wound up deceptively running away with a win.

I think part of the reason Pitt is favored so heavily in this one is because of a defense that is supposed to be pretty stingy this year. If Syracuse is going to score points on Saturday, will they be more effective as a running team or a passing one this weekend? The running game really struggled last weekend. Was that just a fluke or do you expect them to have problems running all season?

While I don’t think Syracuse can look much worse on offense than they did this past Saturday, I don’t think they’re going to score a ton of points against Pitt. If they look effective on offense, it’ll probably be through the air — since our starting running back is too light to make much happen between the tackles, and we have a couple injuries on the interior line. Until we see some improvements from the guard and center positions, it’s going to be tough to run much, which likely puts more pressure on Tommy DeVito, and derails the passing game more as a result.

What’s the book on quarterback Tommy DeVito, who had a pretty decent year last season but really struggled last week? With no running game and a questionable offensive line, I’m guessing that loss against the Tar Heels wasn’t all on him.

You’re correct that last week wasn’t entirely on him. He was sacked seven times, his receivers dropped numerous passes, and he wound up being our leading rusher despite getting hit in the backfield so much. It’s tough to throw well when the other team knows your team can’t run the ball, so I don’t envy the position he’s been put in.

That said, DeVito also doesn’t take a ton of risks, misses frequently on deep balls and doesn’t move past his first read quickly enough. Hopefully he starts improving a bit on those fronts. One of the country’s top defenses is probably not what he needed to see in week two.

Syracuse took a chance on head coach Dino Babers, who had a couple of really good seasons in the OVC and MAC. He had the big 10-win season in 2018 but his other three years were sub .500 and this year looks like another challenge for him. That team in 2018 was legitimately good and only one of their three losses (a 36-3 loss to Notre Dame) got out of hand. Where are we at with the Babers experiment? Is he in real trouble if the team struggles this year or did that season buy him more time?

I would hope that at this point, we’re past any ideas that this is an “experiment.” Babers was a great hire when we brought him on, and the shift to a more modern offensive scheme was a needed one for the Orange. I think a lot of SU fans really got their hopes up last year after the thrill of 2018, and when things landed with a thud, it created a ton of doubts about Babers for those that were skeptical about him to begin with (a larger portion of the fan base than was warranted). The lunatic fringe of ‘Cuse fans want him gone already, but I think most are a little more reasonable: This original schedule was set up to give a rebuilding team a great shot at a bowl. Dino made coordinator changes to address last year’s issues. And the original offseason would’ve provided us with more than enough time to implement changes.

Reality didn’t wind up cooperating with any of that, so now we’re learning on the fly a bit. It’s not Dino’s fault that this team didn’t have the installation time necessary. But the probable losing record this year does reflect on him. Between his buyout and this being a lost year, he’s around through at least 2021, barring a winless season next year.

Syracuse comes into this one as a three touchdown underdog in this one, which is obviously high for a conference game. That line definitely surprised me a little bit — what about you? Too high or is it justified?

Too high, to be honest. I know you guys just finished pasting Austin Peay... but it’s also Austin Peay. I think Pitt’s the better squad, but also think both teams have very good defenses and questionable offenses. So I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams fail to hit 21 points as they trade mistakes and try to win on the last possession.

Pitt was down a bunch of key players last week due to injury or from apparent positive COVID tests. Was Syracuse down any key players last weekend? Any update on their status?

Syracuse has actually managed COVID testing fairly well after initial player concerns earlier in the summer. Right now, we have non-COVID injuries on the O-line (to starting guard Dakota Davis, in particular), what could be a disciplinary absence in starting linebacker Tyrell Richards, and three opt-outs for the season in our top two running backs — Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard — and reserve DT Cooper Dawson.

No guarantees the running game would’ve been electric with Davis healthy and Adams and Howard on the field. However, it would’ve at least improved what everyone had to witness last weekend.

Prediction time — What do you expect to see happen this weekend against Pitt.

Like I said, tough to be worse on offense than we were last week, but also don’t expect a ton of improvement against an excellent Pitt D. Think we see something like a 17-13 Pitt win where both teams wind up forcing a couple turnovers while also pushing the other out of their comfort zone on offense. The difference, really, is that I have a lot more faith in Pitt’s line to be able to keep Kenny Pickett upright and maybe open a few running lanes. It’s ugly, but a Panthers win seems like the result here — which should send our fan base into a bit of a tailspin.

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