Syracuse, Pitt set for final Big East meeting

Ryan Nassib and Tino Sunseri will play in the final matchup between Syracuse and Pitt in the Big East. US Presswire, Icon SMI

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone has done what every head coach should do when his team gets off to a rough start: He has taken full responsibility for the way his team has performed.

The penalties, the turnovers, the failed red zone opportunities?

All his fault, he says.

Now we get to see whether what he has preached to his players has sunk in, as the Orange (1-3) take on Pitt (2-2) on Friday night. Syracuse has had a bye week to get some of the mistakes that have plagued the team corrected. Marrone wants to see more discipline and fewer errors, as the Orange are one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to turnover margin (No. 110) and penalties per game (No. 114).

"To be honest, it comes down to the players on the field," receiver Alec Lemon said in a phone interview. "The coaches can tell us what to do, but it's us on the field committing the turnovers and penalties. If we don't have the will and the power to do what they're telling us, that's on us.

"This past week, the whole offense, the whole team, everything the coaches have been telling us, we've been focusing on that. That was the key to the bye week: Keep the ball off the ground."

Not much has gone right for this team, going back to last season. Syracuse closed 2011 on a five-game losing streak. Its last Big East victory happened nearly a year ago -- Friday, Oct. 21, against West Virginia. The Orange played flawlessly in that game, with three penalties, zero turnovers and a 71 percent completion rate on third down.

"I have to find a way to get this team ready to play like we have played at times during the course of my time here," Marrone said.

Perhaps playing in a national spotlight game will add extra motivation. There is something else, though. No current Syracuse player has beaten Pitt. The Panthers have won seven straight in the series. Marrone was the offensive line coach for the New York Jets the last time Syracuse won, in 2004.

These two teams are meeting for the final time as Big East members before making the jump to the ACC. They will continue to play on an annual basis in their new conference as divisional crossover opponents. But before anybody can begin thinking about the ACC, there is the real opportunity of trying to win the Big East.

Pitt already is 0-1 in conference play, but it appears to be a vastly different team than the one that lost to Cincinnati in Week 2. The Panthers come into the game on a two-game winning streak, a stretch in which they racked up 1,163 total yards. That set the school record for offensive output in back-to-back games.

Tino Sunseri has picked up his play. Last season, he threw 11 interceptions and 10 touchdowns. Through four games this year, he has eight touchdown passes and two interceptions. Meanwhile, the running game has looked good with Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, and the defense has shown major improvements.

We have yet to see that type of growth from Syracuse week to week. But this could be seen as a fresh start, because it is the conference opener for the Orange. That has not been lost on the players.

"We are 0-0 in the Big East right now," quarterback Ryan Nassib said. "You look at the first four games as preseason. This is the time we've got to make plays. This is the playoffs in college, I guess you could say. We have to take what we learned from the first four games and get better."