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No. 20 Syracuse Football Seeks First Win Against Pitt Since 2017

The Syracuse defense tries to stop the Notre Dame run game. The Fighting Irish ran for 246 yards last Saturday
@Cuse_Football on Twitter
The Syracuse defense tries to stop the Notre Dame run game. The Fighting Irish ran for 246 yards last Saturday

The last time Syracuse beat Pittsburgh — a 27-24 edging at home back in October 2017 — the JMA Wireless Dome was named the Carrier Dome. This season’s matchup will be the first between the Orange and the Panthers since Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field — where the two teams will play — was renamed Acrisure Stadium in July.

Dino Babers’ team comes into Saturday’s matchup after two straight losses, following a 6-0 start to the season. Saturday’s 41-24 loss to Notre Dame was rough from the very first snap — Garrett Shrader threw an interception that led to a Brandon Joseph touchdown for the Irish.

Syracuse has had a turbulent time on both offense and defense in their games against Clemson and Notre Dame — times that will possibly be even more turbulent.

It is still unclear who will start under center for the Orange Saturday afternoon. Starting quarterback Garrett Shrader was taken out in the second half of last Saturday’s game against the Irish with an unspecified injury.

“I just didn’t feel like he could protect himself,” Babers said after being asked about why he took Shrader out of the game.

Although Babers said Thursday night on his radio show that “All the guys except for Garrett Williams practiced,” if Shrader is not healthy enough to play Saturday, we could see freshman Carlos Del-Rio Wilson under center. The Georgia native replaced Shrader last Saturday afternoon, completing 11 of his 22 passes for 190 yards. The offense had rejuvenated itself under Del-Rio Wilson in the second half, before the threw an interception early in the 4th quarter. Junior Clarence Lewis would later block a Syracuse punt that put Notre Dame in prime touchdown position, on which the Irish capitalized.

Head Coach Dino Babers gave the backup a “C” Saturday after the game, and said there is no possibility of a quarterback controversy right now.

“That was the only reason we made the move,” Babers said Saturday, referring to his belief that Shrader couldn’t protect himself, and did not look his best. “There isn't a quarterback controversy. When Shrader is healthy, Shrader will go."

On the defensive side, SU officially lost cornerback Garrett Williams for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, which he suffered last Saturday against Notre Dame. Williams previously dealt with an injury against N.C. State, and did not play against Clemson.

While senior Isaiah Johnson has played most of the snaps in relief of Williams this season, Coach Babers said it is unlikely that he becomes the dominant replacement.

“Sometimes when you lose a bonafide starter like that, it’s not one guy stepping up,” Babers said. Sometimes it’s a rotation that’s based on what the offense is doing.”

Meanwhile, it’s been a rough start for the Panthers in 2022. After beating Wake Forest in the ACC Championship last season and going 11-3, Pitt is off to a 4-4 start, already losing more games this year than in the two seasons prior. Pitt lost star quarterback Kenny Pickett after last season, who is now a starter in the same stadium he played many of his college games at for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pat Narduzzi’s team has lost three of their last four games, including to North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech. Last week against North Carolina, the Panthers squandered a second-half ten point lead, letting the Tar Heels score 28 unanswered points to win 42-24.

Narduzzi believes his team has continually shot itself in the foot week after week. Pitt committed seven turnovers combined against Louisville and Georgia Tech. The Panthers also committed two turnovers against No. 24 Tennessee in overtime, leading to a 34-27 loss. Tennessee is now second in the AP Top 25.

“We’re undefeated, really. That’s how I look at it,” Narduzzi said. “We beat ourselves… nobody’s beat us.”

Despite some rough patches, the Pitt still has some players to watch out for on Saturday afternoon. Running back Israel Abanikanda leads the ACC in rushing yards with 1,086. The Junior’s total is also enough for third in the entire nation in rushing. Syracuse running back Sean Tucker is second in the conference with 758. Panthers Wide Receiver Jared Wayne is fifth in the ACC with 572 receiving yards.

On the other side of the ball, defensive back Erick Hallett II has three interceptions so far this season — leading the conference. Hallett has 30 tackles coming into Saturday.

Kickoff from inside Acrisure Stadium is set for 3:30 p.m. this Saturday. Our coverage on WAER will begin at 3:00, with McClurg Team Countdown to Kickoff.