As the 2019 College Football season reaches its halfway point, the Syracuse Orange (3-3, 0-2), have many questions left to answer.
Which Tommy DeVito can we count on going forward, the healthy one who racked up nearly 400 total yards and five touchdowns against Western Michigan, or the injury-prone one who has a 12:5 touchdown to interception ratio and two costly red zone picks?
What should we base our expectations on going forward, the three wins, or the three losses? In Syracuse's three victories, they have outscored their opponents 117-36 (+81). In their three losses, however, it's a mirror effect: Winning opponents have outscored the Orange 120-36 (+84).
Will this team qualify for a bowl game? At this point last year, the Orange sat at 4-2, fresh off a win against none other than the Pittsburgh Panthers. They would go on to finish at 10-3 and win the Camping World Bowl.
The Orange have a chance to answer some of these questions on Friday night as they welcome Pitt (4-2, 1-1) to the Dome. Syracuse looks to get back in the win column after an uninspiring showing in a 16-10 loss at N.C. State last Thursday. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, comes into this conference clash with fresh legs and a winning streak, having won three straight before their bye last week.
S.U. has played Pitt more than any other opponent in their football program's history. The Panthers lead the rivalry 39-32-3 and have won five of the last six. Uncoincidentally, Syracuse's last series win came the last time the game occurred in the Dome, with Syracuse winning 27-24 in 2017.
The Orange defense has emerged as the unquestioned focal point of this team, forcing nearly two turnovers a game, and forcing at least one in every contest to this point. Panther quarterback Kenny Pickett ranks second in the ACC with 287 total yards per game and 274 passing yards per game. But with a 10:5 TD-INT ratio, he's not immune to mistakes. The defense should try and keep that turnover streak alive at all costs, because Tommy DeVito and the offense will need as many opportunities as they can get.
It's no secret that Tommy DeVito has toed the line with his preseason expectations, but his flashes of greatness simply can't be ignored. Having established an exciting and productive rapport with receiver Trishton Jackson, DeVito is more than capable of leading this offense, it's more a matter of consistency and crunch time judgement than anything else.
The Syracuse offensive line will have their hands full on Friday. The Panthers have the second most sacks in the nation, averaging 4.5 a game for a total of 27. Allowing just 298 total yards of offense to opponents, the Pitt defense will not only keep the game close, but keep DeVito's margin of error very slim.
The easiest way to keep a defensive line honest is to establish the ground game, which won't be an easy task, either. While the Orange have averaged around 120 rush yards per game, the Panthers have held opponents to 97 rush yards a game. The double-edged sword of Moe Neal and Abdul Adams will have to get busy early on Friday. All three of Syracuse's wins this season have included a rushing touchdown, and a successful ground attack can do wonders for DeVito's composure and decision-making in the pocket. One thing is for certain: the red zone interceptions must come to an end.
This game will hinge on how effective the Syracuse offense can be against a nationally ranked Panther defense. The Orange have not enjoyed many early leads this season, and some quick points can completely flip the script of this game, one way or another. The Dome effect is very real, and an early lead will only amplify it.
Next up: Syracuse will travel down south with a matchup against the Florida State Seminoles next Saturday at 3:30, while Pitt will return home and face Miami next Saturday at noon.
Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh can be seen on ESPN and heard on WAER, 88.3 FM. Kickoff is at 7:00 on Friday, October 18.