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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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Chris Matthews poses for a photo at the Global Hub in Posvar Hall.
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Preview | Pitt football travels to Yankee Stadium to play Syracuse in a long-standing rivalry

Redshirt+sophomore+quarterback+Christian+Veilleux+%2811%29+throws+a+pass+during+Saturday+afternoons+game+against+FSU+at+Acrisure+Stadium.
Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Christian Veilleux (11) throws a pass during Saturday afternoon’s game against FSU at Acrisure Stadium.

Pitt football (2-7, 1-4 ACC) travels to the Bronx to take on Syracuse (4-5, 0-5 ACC) on Saturday. Yankee Stadium will host the Panthers and the Orange in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the first college football game played at the venue in 1923. 

The history of college football in the stadium began with the inaugural football game between Pitt and Syracuse in 1923. The Orange emerged victorious with a 3-0 win over the Panthers. 

Saturday’s matchup between Pitt and Syracuse is intriguing, as both teams have notable challenges to overcome. The Panthers have yet to secure a victory on the road, while Syracuse has yet to win a single conference game. 

It’s a tough season for Pitt football. The Panthers have lost their last three games, thus losing bowl eligibility. Besides lifting the spirits of the team, not much is at stake in this game for the Panthers. 

However, the same can’t be said for Syracuse. The Orange need to win two out of three of their last games of the season to maintain bowl eligibility. But they’ve lost five consecutive games. 

Under the leadership of head coach Dino Babers, Syracuse has struggled to secure a win against Pitt, with a record of 1-6 against them since 2015. Throughout their lengthy series, Pitt has consistently proven dominance over Syracuse, with a record of 43-32-3. In their last matchup, Pitt beat Syracuse in a 19-9 win.

Pitt’s defensive line needs to get after a weak Syracuse quarterback unit

If there’s one aspect of this Pitt team that has played reasonably well, it’s their defense. Pitt’s defense proves that they can go after the quarterback. So far, the defense has 25 sacks on the season. 

It is uncertain which quarterback will start for the Orange, as the team’s original starting quarterback, senior Garrett Shrader, was ruled out with an injury last game against Boston College. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson started in his place.

Del Rio-Wilson struggled, as he only passed for 7-17 for just 37 yards with four interceptions in the game. The young quarterback only had the ball for just 17 minutes and 44 seconds to Boston College’s 42:16. 

During last year’s game between Del Rio-Wilson and Pitt, Del Rio-Wilson had a subpar performance. The Panthers held him to just 8 out of 23 passing yards for 120 yards. 

Even if Shrader is back this weekend, he isn’t much of a difference-maker. In the 2023 season, he was sacked 25 times so far. In the last three games he’s played, he only has one touchdown. However, it is unlikely he is back for this game.

At Thursday afternoon’s press conference, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was asked about how ready his defense is to take on quarterback mobility this weekend. 

“I feel good with the athletes we have on the field to stop the athletic quarterback,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve seen enough of them this year. The guy we played last week [Jordan Travis], probably a Heisman Trophy candidate guy, I thought we did pretty good.”

In order for Pitt to win this game, they need to capitalize on a vulnerable Syracuse quarterback class. Regardless of who is played, the Pitt defense needs to blitz the Orange quarterback. 

Pitt needs to contain Syracuse’s sophomore running back LeQuint Allen Jr. 

Despite the Orange not having a notable quarterback or wide receiver depth, the team’s run game is one of their strong areas. Syracuse’s sophomore running back demonstrates effective running skills weekly. 

Allen is No. 4 in the ACC for most rushing yards per game, with 138 carries for 695 yards and seven touchdowns in the 2023 season. 

In his last game against Boston College, he had a career-high 142 yards. When the young running back was asked how he performed so well in an interview on Thursday, he stated:

“The scheme the coaches put together and the linemen played a hell of a game,” he said. “They opened holes for me to get through.”

Pitt’s run defense needs to prevent these big holes from opening up to prevent explosive plays on the Orange’s run game.

The young running back puts a lot of effort forth to help with his overall weak-performing offense. This Tuesday, He spoke on his efforts:

“Whatever coach tells me to do and whether that’s a scheme or, you know, just the effort. I make sure my effort is 100% every play,” Allen Jr. said. “Keep your eye on the prize.”

The Orange running back is truly a leader for their lackluster offense. On Tuesday, he spoke to his team after the loss and wants his team to keep their hopes up.

“Everybody is just going through the motions. And I just felt like I needed to be the guy to step up and be vocal, you know?” he said. “My message was, we’re still in this, you know, we can still get a bowl game.”

With Allen Jr. maintaining leadership and still putting forth full effort, the Panthers need to make sure to stop the run. The Pitt run defense has had an average season. The NCAA ranks Pitt’s rush defense at 45th in the country. 

In order to prevent Syracuse from scoring, Pitt will need to effectively contain Allen Jr., as the team will predominantly rely on their run game to put points on the board.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Christian Vellieux must improve his passing game

Pitt’s redshirt sophomore quarterback Christian Veilleux continues to struggle on offense, especially within the passing game. During his previous game against No. 4 Florida State, he struggled to complete many passes, resulting in a final completion rating of only 43%, as he was only able to complete 15 out of 35 passes.

His persistent inaccuracy in throwing passes might result in losing the game if he fails to improve his performance. 

Narduzzi spoke on the accuracy issues of his young quarterback.

“We’ve got to get the ball to the right guy at the right time, and again, it’s always something you can do better,” Narduzzi said. “When you watch the tape, you look back [and think], ‘Hindsight, man, I wish we would have tried that.’ You don’t get a second chance.”

Pitt ranks 110th in the nation in scoring with an average of 20.7 points a game. Simply put, Pitt needs to effectively pass the ball in order to have a chance of scoring in this football game. 

Prediction: A low-scoring game, but Pitt will win by one touchdown, 10-3. 

Given the fact that both offenses have struggled mightily this season, I expect this game to have a low-scoring outcome. In spite of this, with Pitt possessing a stronger defense, I believe the defense will prevent Syracuse from many scoring points. 

With Syracuse only having a game on the ground and a weak passing game, the Orange will struggle to put up points. 

Pitt should deliver Syracuse’s sixth consecutive loss while simultaneously ending their own string of losses.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m on Saturday with coverage on the ACC Network.

About the Contributor
Lily Peters, Staff Writer
Lily Peters is a sports staff writer for The Pitt News. She is a part of the College of General Studies class of 2027 and is majoring in Media and Professional Communications. Additionally, she is pursuing a certificate in Television and Broadcast Arts.