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Syracuse hampered by penalties, turnovers

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 11:00 p.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone coaches his team against Northwestern during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012. Northwestern won the game 42-41. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

When Syracuse welcomes Pitt to the Carrier Dome on Friday night, the Orange must overcome much more than a Panthers team on a modest two-game winning streak.

Syracuse is committing penalties and turnovers at a dizzying rate. The team is last in the nation in covering punts. The noisy confines of the dome have not been yielding the desired results.

Worse, the coach seems to be depressed.

For the second week in a row during the Big East coaches conference call, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone shouldered all the blame for his team's 1-3 start.

“I've done a poor job with turnovers and penalties and certain situations on the field that have really hurt our team,” Marrone said. “We have to give ourselves an opportunity, and that's not what we are doing now.”The Orange's turnover ratio is negative 1.5 per game, seventh in the eight-team Big East and 109th in the country. Syracuse also is next-to-last in the conference and 114th in average penalties per game (8.8).

“That's a reflection on me,” said Marrone, whose record at the Carrier Dome has fallen to 11-12 since taking over the program in 2009.

Marrone may be a bit tough on himself, considering Syracuse' three losses are to No. 13 USC, No. 24 Northwestern and Minnesota (combined record, 12-2).

No matter what Marrone might say, the season hasn't been a total loss. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is averaging 341.7 passing yards per game, a figure surpassed by only five others across the nation.

“There seems to be a good rhythm to their passing game,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “This is one where we are going to be tested. Are we ready? We're going to find out.”

Expect Pitt to attempt to control the game's tempo with the running game in hopes of keeping Nassib off the field. Syracuse's run defense is 82nd, allowing 176.2 yards per game.

Northwestern running back Venric Mark found the formula for beating the Orange, scoring on an 82-yard punt return and rushing for 82 (5.9 per carry). It was the most aggravating loss of the season for the Orange, who surrendered touchdowns on punt and fumble returns. Syracuse rallied from a 35-13 deficit midway through the third quarter to take the lead with 2:40 remaining, but Northwestern (5-0) scored with 44 seconds left to win, 42-41.

Pitt punt returner Cam Saddler has seen the video and is eager to test the Syracuse coverage team that has allowed an average of 34.8 yards per return. He made no predictions but smiled when the subject was raised.

“(Mark) kind of just made a play, and they missed a couple tackles,” Saddler said. “I try to tell the guys every time we take the field, ‘Just block your man, and I'm going to try to do the rest.' ”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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