Syracuse (4-4) at Cincinnati (5-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Nippert Stadium (35,097) -- Cincinnati, Ohio. Television: Big East Network. Home Record: Syracuse 3-1, Cincinnati 4-0. Away Record: Syracuse 1-2, Cincinnati 0-2. Neutral Record: Syracuse 0-1, Cincinnati 1-0. Conference Record: Syracuse 3-1, Cincinnati 1-1. Series Record: Cincinnati leads 7-5.
GAME NOTES: The Syracuse Orange will look to prove that they belong in the Big East Conference title chase when the Orange head to Nippert Stadium to tangle with the tough Cincinnati Bearcats on Saturday.
Syracuse has been a bit of a surprise this season. Though the Orange's 4-4 overall record doesn't scream success, the Orange are now 3-1 in conference play after Ryan Nassib pulled Syracuse out from the jaws of defeat with a last-second touchdown pass to Alec Lemon to earn a 37-36 win over South Florida. The victory was the second straight and third in four games for the Orange and puts Syracuse behind only Louisville (3-0) and Rutgers (4-0) in the league standings, a drastic improvement over last season's squad which finished just 1-6 in-conference.
On the other side, Cincinnati has suffered a pair of difficult losses in the last two weeks to fall to 5-2 overall. The Bearcats are now delving into the bulk of their conference schedule after a 34-31 overtime loss to Louisville last Friday. The loss to Louisville was particularly disheartening for the Bearcats as they let a 24-14 lead in the third quarter slip away.
These teams have only been conference foes for seven years as Cincinnati made the move over from Conference USA in 2005. In that time the Bearcats have gone 6-1 against the Orange and have taken over the all-time series lead with a mark of 7-5 against Syracuse. That includes a 30-13 win last season.
In a conference without a whole lot of offensive firepower, Syracuse has risen to the top, leading the league in total offense (461.9 ypg) thus far. The Orange get the majority of that production out of their prolific passing game, which accounts for 310.9 yards per game, the most of any team in the conference.
That type of production has been made possible by Nassib. The senior quarterback has thrown for a Big East-leading 2,487 yards and is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (17). He also completes his passes at a high rate (65.5) and has shown the ability to come up big when his team needs him the most. The fourth-quarter comeback he orchestrated against South Florida may have been his first this season, but he has eight for his career as a whole.
Nassib has gotten plenty of help from his receivers. Marcus Sales has been one of the best pass catchers in the whole conference, totaling 46 receptions for 670 yards and seven touchdowns. His touchdown total is the top mark in the Big East and his yardage total is second. Alec Lemon, who caught Nassib's game- winning touchdown pass against South Florida, is a reliable possession receiver with 37 catches for 468 yards. Also contributing this season is Jarrod West (34 receptions, 483 yards).
The running game is paced by Jerome Smith, who has 615 yards on 125 carries this season.
A modest defensive attack has kept Syracuse from reaching even further heights this season. The Orange are ranked fifth in the defensive-minded Big East in total defense (356.9 ypg), while allowing opponents to score 25.o points per game. Where Syracuse has shown some strength is in creating negative plays, as the Orange lead the conference with 60 tackles for loss.
Dyshawn Davis and Brandon Sharpe have been the most effective defenders in creating disruption in opposing backfields. Sharpe has recorded a team-high 11 tackles for loss including 5.5 sacks, while Davis has taken down nine ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Top tackler Siriki Diabate (51) has also contributed in that area with five tackles for loss.
Like Syracuse, Cincinnati has accomplished a great deal of offensive success this season. The Bearcats are the highest scoring team in the conference (34.1 ppg) and the second most productive, behind only Syracuse, in total yardage (451.1 ypg). Cincinnati can really strike in a hurry with the team having the most plays of 20-plus yards this season with 41. The Bearcats have also had the most plays of 50 or more yards with six, three of which were for more than 70 yards.
In what has otherwise been a strong season for dual-threat quarterback Munchie Legaux, the last two games have not been so successful. Legaux threw for a season-low 157 yards, while completing just 13-of-28 passes in the loss to Louisville, with three interceptions, including one in overtime. That effort came after Legaux was intercepted twice in the previous week against Toledo. He had only three interceptions before those two games. Overall, Legaux has piled up a decent amount of yards (1,592) and touchdowns (13) but has not completed his passes at a high rate (52.4 percent). Legaux can also make plays with his feet, although since a 117-yard effort against Pittsburgh in the season opener he has not contributed much on the ground.
Instead it has been George Winn who has been the steady force in the running game. Winn has rushed for 732 yards and four touchdowns and has rushed for at least 75 yards in every game this season. Ralph David Abernathy has been a proven backup, rushing for 98 yards two weeks ago, while scoring two touchdowns in the loss to Louisville.
In terms of pass catching threats for the Bearcats, Kenbrell Thompkins has been the leading receiver, with team leads yards (322) and receptions (21).
The loss of Walter Stewart (5.0 sacks) in mid October has not seemed to have been felt by the Cincinnati defense. Since Stewart went down the Bearcats have had six sacks in two games and are still the conference leader in the category with 21. The Bearcats have been tough to score against, ranking second in the conference in points allowed (19.3 ppg), despite having the sixth ranked total defense (377.1 ypg).
Greg Blair has continued to be an important part of the defense for Cincinnati. Blair has led the team in tackles (73) and contributed in just about every area with 4.5 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions. Maalik Bomar has also been consistent in bringing down opposing ball carriers with 52 tackles, while Dan Giordano (2.5 sacks) is the lead pass rusher with Stewart still sidelined.
The Bearcats came so close to knocking off the team that has thus far been the class of the conference. Syracuse is still trying to prove that it belongs in the conference title discussion and a win here could do just that. However, the Bearcats have plenty of offense to keep up with the Orange.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 34, Syracuse 29
10/31 10:42:52 ET