This Saturday at 12PM in the Carrier Dome the Syracuse Orangemen will be hosting the Pittsburgh Panthers in a Big East conference showdown. The game caps off a week long series of events titled "Orange Central," however us real fans know that it is indeed Homecoming weekend. As the school's long list of distinguished alumni make their way back to campus for a fun filled weekend of debauchery and Max Weinberg, we can once again look to the football team as a source of pride for the Syracuse community.
The Orangemen are returning to the Dome after a tremendous win at the University of South Florida, which propelled their record to 4-1 for the first time since the 1999 season. The three headed monster of Ryan Nassib, Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey lead Syracuse on a 98 yard 14 play touchdown drive in the 4th quarter, and Syracuse's defense held on to give syracuse a 13-9 win and a much needed conference road victory. The win left the Syracuse Orangemen alone at first place in the Big East!
The Pittsburgh Panthers come into the Dome after losing on the road in South Bend last weekend, 23-17 to the hated Notre Dame Fightin' Irish. The loss dropped the Panthers to just 2-3 on the season. This will be the first Big East game of the season for Pittsburgh, who were many experts pre-season pick to finish first in the conference. The Panthers were preseason ranked 15th in both the USA Today and AP polls. They have since dropped from the rankings.
Pittsburgh is lead into the Dome by sophomore QB Tino Sunseri. In his first season under center, Sunseri has completed 90 of 139 passing attempts for 961 yards and 5 TDs. He has also thrown 3 interceptions and been sacked 9 times. Last weekend against Notre Dame Sunseri was 27 of 39 for 272 yards with 1TD and 1INT in the loss. He also ran for 1 TD, so Syracuse's defense will have to contain Sunseri in the pocket, much like they accomplished last weekend when they were faced with USF quarterback B.J. Daniels.
On the ground Pittsburgh has Ray Graham and Dion Lewis taking the carries. Each has 60 rushing attempts, however Ray Graham has been the more productive back thus far this season with 536 yards and 5TDs compared to Lewis' 206 yards and 2TDs. In the air Pittsburgh's #1 receiver is Jon Baldwin. Baldwin has 24 catches for 322 yards and at team leading 3 receiving TDs. Mike Shanahan has 19 catches for 239 yards and Devin Street is another WR target for Sunseri, 9 catches for 113 yards.
Last weekend, Syracuse was catapulted into respectability primarily because of their defensive performance. Max Suter's 8 tackles (six solo, three for a loss, and a sack) earned him Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors, and Shamarko Thomas contributed 6 tackles and a sack. Both Da'Mon Merkerson and Jeremi Wikles each had an interception and Syracuse's defense looked stronger than it has at any point this half of the decade. Each time they were asked to make a big stop, they provided the pressure and got SU the ball back. It will take another great all around effort from the defense in order for Syracuse to be successful on Saturday.
The game will be televised live on the Big East Network (aka SNY), although it is STRONGLY suggested that if you live in the Syracuse area that you ATTEND the game! There are plenty of tickets and good deals still available for SU fans which should enable fans to make it inside the Dome. If you go, make some NOISE! If someone asks you to sit down on 3rd and long tell them "politely" to STAND UP and cheer! Also, if you are attending the game be sure to wear ORANGE! I'm not sure why we have to tell people that, but regardless, get it done!! It's an ORANGE OUT!
[The t-shirt pictured above I received Homecoming weekend 2002 during my freshman year. Back then they weren't afraid to call Homecoming "Homecoming"]