Dec 3, 2011; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Syracuse Orange tight end Nick Provo (80) is tackled by Pittsburgh Panthers defenders K

Breaking Down The Big East: Pittsburgh

This is a series where we will be breaking down every Big East Football team in the order Syracuse sees them on the schedule. Included in these team previews are excerpts from a Syracuse Football E-Zine that is set to be released later this summer.

The Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh is the first conference game for the Orange this fall, with the two teams meeting up in the Dome on October 5th.

October 15, 2011; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back Ray Graham (1) carries the ball against the Utah Utes during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Utah won 26-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

Despite numerous recent head coaching changes, Pittsburgh looks to make it back to the BCS in 2012. The Panthers finished 2011 at 6-7, with four out of the seven losses being by four points or less. This team also had to overcome a major mid season hurdle when star running back Ray Graham had to have season ending ACL surgery. The game against Syracuse was relatively easy for the Panthers last season, but with the game at the Dome this year, along with the fact that both teams should be improved could make this game turn out to be a real battle. In order for Pittsburgh to be successful this season, they are absolutely going to need to see Ray Graham running at 100%, as well as seeing returning quarterback Tino Sunseri put up big numbers.  It can’t be overstated how important these two players are to their team, and how critical they are to their success.

On defense the Panthers return top defensive tackler Max Gruder, who will be up the middle at linebacker this season. Gruder is a smart player who is capable of playing both inside and outside at linebacker. Gruder has led the team in tackles the past two seasons, and will absolutely be an anchor on the defensive side of the ball for Pittsburgh. Defensive back Jarred Holley is also a key defensive component, who is a previous All-Conference selection. These two will absolutely lead the defense on what could be a very solid defensive team.

The main component for Syracuse to win this game is going to be on the defensive front. If Ray Graham is running like he is capable of, the Orange will need to contain him or else he will run rampant. This would open things up for Sunseri to throw against a more experienced but still young Syracuse secondary. Containing the run will greatly relieve the pressure of the secondary to help out up front, which will greatly improve the pass coverage as a direct result. This game will be a battle in the Dome, and it will be fun to watch Sunseri and Nassib go head to head.

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