By Bill Koch
Enquirer staff writer
SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The Syracuse fans are restless. They're so disenchanted with what has transpired the past few years under head coach Paul Pasqualoni that many of them have decided to stay away from today's game against the University of Cincinnati.
There's talk that this game might draw fewer than 30,000 fans in the 49,550-seat Carrier Dome; that hasn't happened since 1986.
Regardless of how many people show up, the Bearcats are expecting a battle.
"It's their first game at home," said linebacker Jason Russell. "They're going to be fired up."
This is the only game UC will play this year against a team from the Big East, which the Bearcats will join next season. The last time the Bearcats (1-1) played a Big East team, they were still campaigning for an invitation to the league and pulled off a 15-13 upset at West Virginia. Since then, they've lost six straight road games.
"This gives our seniors a chance to put their stamp on where this team is in regard to the Big East," said UC coach Mark Dantonio.
Syracuse (1-1) beat Buffalo last week 37-15, but that did little to erase the memories of the Orange's 51-0 loss at Purdue the week before. Things are so bad that players are begging their fans not to abandon them.
"The more the fans start getting on us, talking about this needs to happen or that needs to happen, that just hurts us as a team," tailback Damien Rhodes told the Syracuse Post-Standard.
UC, which is allowing an average of 457 yards per game, is looking to improve against a Syracuse offense that is averaging only 236 yards per game this season.
Senior tailback Walter Reyes has rushed for 2,713 yards in his Syracuse career, fourth on the school's all-time list, but he has gained only 92 yards on 30 carries this season.
At quarterback, Syracuse starts freshman Joe Fields but also will use sophomore Perry Patterson. Neither has established himself has a serious passing threat.
The Bearcats hope to dominate up front as they did last week against Miami when they limited the RedHawks to 37 rushing yards while gaining 341, including 238 from running back Richard Hall.
The UC offensive line has yet to allow a sack this season.
"If you're able to physically dominate the person across from you, it's demoralizing," Dantonio said.
The Bearcats have had loud music and crowd noise pumped into Nippert Stadium during practice this week to prepare for the noise in the Carrier Dome.
"The crowd will be a factor in the dome because of the loudness," Russell said. "... They've got great fans up there."
They just don't have as many as they used to.
UC at Syracuse