In preparation for a matchup of the Big Easts best two offenses, the Syracuse University football team went back to the basics during its bye week.
Fourth-year coach Doug Marrone said that the emphasis was put on limiting turnovers and penalties, mistakes that have put the Orange at 1-3 entering the programs final Big East opener against Pittsburgh at 7 tonight in the Carrier Dome. The game will be televised on ESPN.
We have to give ourselves an opportunity and thats what were not doing right now, said Marrone, who has a 3-1 career record after a bye.
Syracuse turned the ball over four times in its 17-10 loss at Minnesota on Sept. 22, and has a total of 10 turnovers through four games.
Turnovers have obviously hurt us, I think thats the first way you put yourself in jeopardy of losing a game. Weve done that consistently in the four games that weve played, Marrone added.
Marrone also stressed the importance of getting off to a good start, something the Orange has failed to do in its first four games.
It has been outscored by 26 points in the first half, and is outscoring opponents by 16 in the second half.
I think its important when you come off a bye that you get off to a good start. Weve talked about that before in past weeks, and we havent been able to do that. Its very difficult to overcome slow starts, Marrone said.
Pittsburgh (2-2), also coming off a bye week, has won two straight after an 0-2 start, including a 35-17 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 15, then ranked 13th.
The Panthers averaged 581 yards of total offense in its two wins. On the season, they rank second in the conference in total offense with 486.6 yards per game, just behind the Oranges 487.5 yards per game.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib leads the conference in pass completions (118), attempts (178), yards (1,367) and touchdowns (10).
But Pittsburgh senior signal-caller Tino Sunseri boasts a better completion percentage (67.2), better passer rating (166.8), and has thrown just two interceptions to Nassibs five.
The Panthers also have two of the conferences top six rushers to rely on. Ray Graham ranks third and freshman Rushel Shell is sixth. They combine for 167 yards per game on the ground.
The Panthers have won the last seven games in the series, and nine of the last 10. Pittsburgh beat Syracuse, 33-20, in last seasons regular-season finale to deny the Orange a chance to be eligible for a bowl game.
At the end of the day, theyve outperformed us and their coaches have outperformed me, Marrone said.
The series will resume when both teams move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. They will be in separate divisions, but will be each others annual crossover opponent.
Senior all-conference left tackle Justin Pugh is set to make his season debut for the Orange tonight.
Pugh has been out while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery. His replacement, Sean Hickey, will shift over to the starting right tackle position and Lou Alexander will become his backup.
Wide receiver Adrian Flemming is also expected to see his first game action of the season after suffering a lower-body injury during preseason camp. Punt returner Steve Rene is also expected to play.
On Wednesday, Marrone said that wide receiver/kick returner Jeremiah Kobena and cornerback Brandon Reddish were considered day-to-day.