Syracuse and Pitt both find themselves trending in the wrong direction as the regular season heads into its final month.
The Orange — ranked 20th in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season — visit the Panthers on Saturday in a match-up of ACC foes hoping to avoid their third straight defeat.
Syracuse (6-2, 3-1 ACC) opened the season with six consecutive victories, including quality wins over Louisville, Purdue and North Carolina State. The Orange then led by 14 at undefeated Clemson before crumbling down the stretch in a 27-21 defeat.
Their problems were compounded last weekend in a 41-24 home loss to Notre Dame, when they allowed 246 rushing yards and lost quarterback Garrett Shrader to a second-quarter concussion.
Shrader’s status against Pitt is cloudy, as Orange coach Dino Babers would not say this week whether the senior quarterback would get the nod against the Panthers, or whether it would be Carlos Del Rio-Wilson making his first career start.
“All that stuff is in consideration behind the curtain, but I just can’t talk about that stuff in the press conference,” Babers said.
Standout running back Sean Tucker (758 yards, 7 TDs) has found the end zone five times in the past four games. He has, however, carried only 35 times the last three games and could be in for a heavier workload Saturday.
Syracuse wraps up its regular season with four ACC games, three of which take place on the road.
“Non-conference is over,” Babers said. “We were 3-1 in non-conference. We lost to Notre Dame. Now it’s all conference play. We’ve got one loss and we have to see how we’re going to finish this thing up.”
The Panthers (4-4, 1-3) also have four league games remaining, and they hope those contests go smoother than the last two games. After getting off to a 4-2 start, Pitt has dropped lopsided decisions to Louisville (24-10) and North Carolina (42-24).
They have been outscored 38-0 in the fourth quarter of those two games.
“The fourth quarter wasn’t good enough,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said seeing a 24-14 lead against UNC punctured by four unanswered touchdowns. “We turned the ball over again in the fourth quarter, which started the tumble. It seems like every week we’ve got one of those.”
On the bright side, Pitt receiver Jared Wayne had a career-high 161 receiving yards on seven catches against North Carolina. And Israel Abanikanda racked up 127 rushing yards and three scores on the ground.
“They’ve got the best running back in the country,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said of Abanikanda, who has an ACC-best 1,086 rushing yards and a national-best 16 touchdowns through the first eight games.
On the other hand, Pitt’s defense will need to be better against Syracuse. The Panthers have given up at least 24 points to seven opponents (Western Michigan was the only exception) and UNC scored the most, with 42.
Pitt has won 17 of the last 20 matchups with Syracuse, including the past four in a row. The Panthers captured last season’s meeting 31-14 behind four TD passes from Kenny Pickett, who is now starting for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
–Field Level Media