SU, Pitt Adding Chapter To Grid Rivalry
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Syracuse (3-3, 0-2 ACC) and Pitt (4-2, 1-1 ACC) will add another chapter to their longstanding gridiron rivalry this Friday when the Panthers come to the Dome.
Syracuse's most frequent opponent, the Panthers have lined up against the Orange 74 times previously. The two schools have played every season since 1955. First foes as independents and then in the BIG EAST, Syracuse and Pitt now compete annually as divisional crossover opponents in the ACC. Pitt leads the all-time series, 39-32-3.
The Orange are coming off a 16-10 road loss to NC State last Thursday. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tommy DeVito completed 29-of-39 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown, but it was not enough as a late rally fell short and NC State held off Syracuse at Carter-Finley Stadium. Pitt has won its last three, including a 33-30 decision on Oct. 5 against Duke. The Panthers had a bye last weekend.
Head coach Dino Babers is looking forward to the rivalry game, one that he's been on both sides of. Before taking the Orange reins, Babers was the running backs coach for the Panthers in 2003.
"I think this goes past Coach [Pat] Narduzzi and myself," Babers said at his weekly press conference. "This is just a rivalry. Before I came [to Syracuse], I wouldn't be able to tell you why it's a close game, but I look at the games that we've had and every last one of them has been a memory. It's interesting that the two groups get together and it doesn't matter what the record is, it's always one heck of a football game. Those guys are favored and rightfully so. It's going to be a great contest."\
Pitt escaped with a narrow 44-37 overtime win in last year's meeting at Heinz Field. The Panthers scored the go-ahead touchdown in the extra session and then intercepted quarterback Eric Dungey on the first play of the Orange's overtime possession. It was the third overtime game played between the Orange and the Panthers and the first time Pittsburgh emerged victorious in extra time.
The year before, Dungey accounted for three touchdowns and 413 of the Orange's 500 total yards in a 27-24 Orange victory that wasn't secured until Ryan Guthrie sacked Pitt backup quarterback Ben DiNucci with less than a minute to go. In 2016, Babers's first season with the Orange, the teams engaged in the highest-scoring regulation game in FBS history. The Panthers won 76-61 at Heinz Field. A combined 20 touchdowns were scored (11 by Pitt and nine by Syracuse), another FBS record.
Babers said earlier this year that he would have a good idea about what kind of the team the Orange would be somewhere between the fourth and sixth game. Now six games into the season, Syracuse is .500 with an opportunity for a strong start to the back half of the campaign.
"Everybody has a responsibility to get better, coaches included. You're not allowed to stay the same," Babers said. "If you start off as a sophomore who's never played, after six games you're not a sophomore anymore. You're a salty guy getting ready to go into his junior year. As a freshmen, after six games you should be improved based on how many plays you've had on the football field.
"What normally happens at this stage is everyone looks at the young players. You're young players should be developing, but you have to lean on your older players. Our best players have to be our best players. They have to play well. I think that's where the big emphasis is, making sure we're going back and getting the production out of the guys who should really be producing for us."
Seeing how Syracuse responds starting on Friday against the Panthers is what gets Babers' juices flowing as a coach.
"My confidence is good. I'm glad that all the frost and fluff [from the preseason] is gone. We're really looking at where we're at and this is when I get excited. We can either be what everyone says we are or we can be something totally different. It's going to take a lot of work because what you see is what we are right now, but that doesn't mean we have to stay there. The guys have put in two good days of practice and they're ready to turn over a new leaf.