Syracuse picked up a big win on the road last week at N.C. State. The Orange head back down south this weekend, where they will try to pick up win number four in the ATL against a reeling Georgia Tech squad.
I've been all over the map on this one. Tech looks like it's in a free fall, losing three straight. Plus, Paul Johnson just received a vote of confidence from the athletic department! Vultures are circling and this may be the perfect spot for SU to sneak in and win (especially with a 12:30 kickoff).
So why am I picking the Wreck?
While I think the Orange found itself an identity last week, I need at least one more game before I go all-in. Can the offensive line continue to open holes for Jerome Smith, Prince Tyson-Gulley, and Terrel Hunt? We'll shall see. This game will be there for the Orange, and the Rush Lane can lead to victory, but I haven't seen enough to feel confident, plus I have a bad feeling that special teams, i.e. field goal kicking, will bite at the worst possible time.
If it is hard-nosed football you want, it is hard-nosed football you will get this weekend in Atlanta. I see this game being a slug fest between two teams that want to run the ball down each others throats. The usual keys to these games are: 1) protecting the football; 2) avoiding game-changing injuries; and 3) make one big play more than your opponent.
I just get a feeling that the Yellow Jackets will be pressing and if they get behind they will want to force the issue with the pass. Their starting quarterback Vlad Lee has been turnover prone and if Syracuse can snatch a few INT that will be big for a victory.
As for Syracuse, I like where the running game is headed and I think head coach Scott Shafer will have these guys fired up to play a very physical game. More and more I am getting the feeling that these guys are going to be prepared to grind out a victory and this is a perfect game to do it.
The Invisible Swordsman
Last week's victory in Raleigh was anything but pretty, but I was extremely satisfied with the performance following a Clemson game that could have really knocked the wind out of this team's sails. Our offensive line and defensive front seven absolutely dominated the Wolfpack, and with our big uglies providing a solid foundation on both sides of the ball, I have high hopes for us Saturday in Atlanta. The loss of Dyshawn Davis hurts, but there is just enough depth and quality to limit the effectiveness of Tech's flexbone offense. Vad Lee's passing ability doesn't concern me (in the same way Terrel Hunt's won't concern the Yellow Jackets), so I see Georgia Tech playing to our strengths. Terrel Hunt and the much maligned SU wide receiving corps will upgrade from "awful" to "merely pedestrian", and combined with a punishing ground game, it will be enough for yet another Northern-style victory.
Without Dyshawn Davis, stopping the Georgia Tech offense does become a little bit more difficult, doesn't it? Both teams will be running the ball for the majority of their offensive snaps, so it almost becomes a question of who can break through first. Georgia Tech's attack does not fare well when trailing in games, while SU has also struggled when playing from behind this year. I see the Yellow Jackets getting themselves on the board first and then just triple-optioning the Orange to death for the rest of the game. It will be a close one, and I think SU's passing game could take a step forward from where it's been. But against a banged-up Syracuse defense, Tech gets the (very) slight edge and grabs a much-needed victory.
When we were recording our "Syracuse Sports Make Me Drink" podcast this week, I still didn't really know which way I was going to go with this pick, although I knew I was leaning towards taking the Orange. Everything I've seen and read from both of these teams make me think that they're two squads going in opposite directions, and the momentum has to favor Syracuse here.
Admittedly, Tech has faced three strong programs in these past three losses, but the way they've lost gives me hope for Syracuse. Syracuse is going to look to get the power running game going, and Tech has surrendered 416 rushing yards in its last two games, against BYU and Miami. With that, the pass defense is supposed to be the weakness of this team, and while I don't know if Terrel Hunt is ready to shake off his last two performances and put together a strong game, the Yellow Jackets seem like a good defense to get things going against.
On the other side of the ball, despite the heavy blitzing, this Syracuse front seven seems to be among the more patient groups during Scott Shafer's five year tenure here, especially with veterans up the middle like Marquis Spruill and Jay Bromley. The defensive ends may not be as flashy as the past, when great athletes like Chandler Jones wore orange, but the group of Rob Welsh, Micah Robinson, Ron Thompson, and Isaiah Johnson has solid athleticism and have made some plays this year, and I think they are up to the challenge of stopping Georgia Tech's spread option offense. As long as the defense keeps the game in front of them, and doesn't allow Vad Lee to throw over the top, where the team is weakest, I am confident that Syracuse can pull this one out.