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Syracuse Football Roundtable: Previewing Wake Forest

Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! This week, TNIAAM's esteemed panel wishes last Saturday never happened...

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

We have a game this weekend! And of course, our kicker goes and gets arrested. Since these questions were asked prior to the arrest, I'll quickly address it up here. This sucks. It's not a death sentence, but it certainly puts a damper on things (most notably special teams) for Saturday. Still, we stand a decent chance vs. Wake Forest, and that's what matters. I'm just holding out hope it doesn't come down to a last-second field goal.

As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the TNIAAM football wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-field, the ACC and more. Join us below...

After Wake's close loss vs. Miami, are you more concerned facing the Deacs?

Sean Farrell: I’m very concerned. In fact, I’m almost more concerned that Wake didn’t pull off the upset. In that case, the Deamon Deacons might have a letdown playing 3-4 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome; instead, they come in with a vengeance. Second, Wake Forest has been getting better as the season has gone on. In week three, the Deacs lost to LA-Monroe, 21-19. Two weeks later, they got embarrassed by Clemson, 56-7. Since then, they have two conference wins (NC State and Maryland) and a competitive game against No. 7 Miami in Sun Life Stadium. I had this game as a win for Syracuse in my pre-season prediction. But even at home coming off a bye, I’m not too confident in the Orange.

Matt McClusky: Absolutely! There's one thing I have always admired Jim Grobe, his teams fight. Sure, Wake Forest gets run out of the stadium against top tier teams, but the Deacs always seem to fight it out against teams near their equal. As the season has played itself out, I've come to realize Syracuse is much more on Wake's level than I previously thought. There's no reason in the world the Deacons can't come to central New York and figuratively punch Syracuse in the mouth for four quarters and steal an ugly victory.

Jared Smith: Oh yes. Actually, I was pretty concerned after Wake Forest beat down a Maryland a few weeks back thanks to a outstanding performance from wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who I don't know if we can cover. Campanaro is one of this shifty slot receivers that is hard to match-up against, and as bad as the Syracuse secondary has been, and as good as Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price has played lately, this is going to be a frustrating game to watch.

Sean Keeley: At this point I feel wary regardless of Wake's performance. We've passed the Rubicon when it comes to trusting this Syracuse football team. They're too erratic and poor QB play across the board is the kind of thing that isn't going to fix itself in two weeks. That the Deacs are playing well and almost upset Miami on the road only adds more fear on top of the pile.

John Cassillo: Wake's been coming around for a few weeks now, so I can't say the close loss to Miami was particularly surprising. But it does show that not only could this defense hang tough against a powerful offense (at least until the end), but that the offense is gaining an ability to exploit opposing Ds and score points. Early in the year, that wasn't the case, but in recent weeks, the Deacons have managed to make big plays on offense and actually keep up with the competition, which is at least a bit unsettling.

Will we get a bounce-back performance from Terrel Hunt against Wake Forest's secondary?

SF: I think we’ll see a slight bounce-back from Hunt, but not a whole lot. So, do I expect him to throw for over 100 yards this week? Yes. Do I expect 300? No. Last week, Wake Forest held Miami QB Stephen Morris to only 191 yards. I tend to think Morris is a better than Hunt. On average, the Deamon Deacons have a fairly solid pass defense and I don’t see them getting burned by Hunt on Saturday. But Hunt will have spent two weeks preparing for Wake and reviewing what’s gone wrong over the past few weeks and that should help him progress.

MM: Honestly, Hunt has to have a bounce back game. The offense is, for better or worse, run on first down, second down, and third down. And while that is probably good enough to keep it close with Wake, the difference between a tight win and a maddeningly frustrating lose could be the progress of Hunt. The sophomore doesn't have to throw for 400 yards, but he has to at least make the defense think twice about the pass.

JS: What is considered a bounce-back performance? 200 passing yards? 300 passing yards? To me, Hunt success is just helping the Orange find a way to win football games. I don't care how he does it as long as he does it. See, this is the difference between Hunt and Drew Allen, who can put up decent numbers through the air but tends to make bad decisions, is Hunt, as long as he isn't turning the ball over, can make a few big plays for you to help win football games. I'd like to say that is what Hunt is going to do Saturday, but I am not going to believe it until I see it.

SK: Perhaps, but who is he going to throw it to? Ashton Broyld can only catch so many balls. Hunt's confidence has surely taken a hit and word that Drew Allen is splitting first-team reps with them again isn't going to help.

JC: I hope "bounce back" simply means he's cut down on the turnovers and made better throws overall. The gameplan should not call for him to pass the ball 30 times for 300 yards. He simply needs to have a game throwing for over 100 at this point, without an interception or a fumble, and I'd say it's a success.

Are we going to see "good" Tanner Price or "bad" Tanner Price at the Carrier Dome?

SF: We’ll see the good Tanner Price. Like Wake, Price has improved as the season has gone on. In the first five games this season, he had seven total touchdowns. Since then, he has eight TDs in the past three games. In all three of those games, he had over 200 yards passing and multiple touchdowns. He has a fairly good matchup going up against the Syracuse secondary. SU allows 242 passing yards per game. That ranks 82nd in the NCAA. Syracuse also gives up an average of two passing TDs per game. If Price has time in the pocket, it won’t be a good day for the Orange.

MM: In a climate controlled setting against a weak unit, I'm betting Price will find his spots, which should mean some big numbers. The real key question is: will the SU defense, specifically the secondary, step up and make a big play in crunch time? Price has the tendency to be inaccurate once the stakes raise a little, we'll see if a pressure packed fourth quarter in Loud House causes him to get a little skittish.

JS: Unfortunately, this is not Price's first go-around at the Carrier Dome and the last time he was there (2011) he played a very steady game tossing for 289 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. I say, if Price just matches that performance Saturday the Deacons are going to win the game. Luckily for Syracuse, they have had a two weeks to prepare for Wake Forest and hopefully that helps tone down his production a bit.

SK: Price had one hell of a game in the Dome back in 2011 (289 yards, 3 TD, 0 INTs) so it's not like he's intimidated. Given our secondary and the ability of WR Michael Campanaro to create big plays, I'd just assume he's going to have a good day.

JC: SU fans should already be familiar with "good" Tanner Price after his game at the Dome a couple years back, but it is tough to tell which version of him you'll get nowadays. Recent games have been good despite the lack of a rushing attack, though that plays to the Orange's strengths. I'll say we see "average" Price.

Defensively, who needs to step up for the Orange on Saturday?

SF: I hinted at it in my last answer, but Syracuse needs a big performance from its secondary on Saturday. Durell Eskridge leads the Orange in tackles. He’ll need to keep up the good work. pecifically, the secondary has to keep Wake receiver Michael Campanaro in check. Campanaro has 792 receiving yards, good for second best in the ACC behind Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. "Campanaro is a phenomenal football player, he accounts for 32 percent of their offense," Scott Shafer told SU Athletics on Wednesday. "In the breakdowns that we've had, 44 percent of all the passes thrown have been thrown at him," Shafer said.

MM: The next man up. Injuries have started to take its toll on the Syracuse defense. Couple that with the dreadful performance against Georgia Tech and I'll assume some big changes are coming to this side of the ball. The newbies will have to make an impact. Also, ignoring the injuries and any substitution, the defense in general needs to collectively step up. That performance in Atlanta was an embarrassment. Shutting down Wake to make up for Tech should be top priority.

JS: Everyone. Not one person is allowed to not step up after getting embarrassed by Georgia Tech a few weeks back.

SK: #AllTheDefense

JC: Echoing the thoughts above: everybody. Though it really needs to be the secondary most of all. If Price is allowed to sling it to a wide-open Campanaro all afternoon, we will lose. That's a guarantee. So anything they can do to slow him down and force throws to their other receivers (who aren't nearly as good) is a step in the right direction.

What must Syracuse do if they hope to pull out a win over Wake?

SF: Get big plays out of the running game. Of Syracuse’s eight longest plays this season, five are rushes, two are passes and one came on a kick return by Prince-Tyson Gulley. In fact, PTG has three plays (two rushes, one kick return) of 45+ yards. I don’t believe that Hunt can piece together long, meticulous passing drives. He hasn’t had a game with a completion percentage over 50 percent since the Tulane game. Hand the ball off and hope for the best.

MM: I think Syracuse is a team that can certainly beat the Wake Forests, the NC States (as proven), Marylands, and Boston Colleges of the ACC. The thing is, to beat this middling teams, the Orange has to have an above average effort by the defense and a turnover-free day by the offense. Ultimately, for the offense, that means the offensive line will have to blow some would-be-tacklers off the block and create holes for Jerome Smith, Prince Tyson-Gulley, and Hunt. I hate to pin wins and losses on a unit that has done so well for the majority of the season, but the truth is, the reason Syracuse has a shot a bowl game right now is because of the Bigs.

JS: Keep Campanaro in-check -- don't allow him to convert big 3rd-downs or break open for a big play; Syracuse offense needs to run the freakin' ball -- Hunt, Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley need to be utilized better; Stay away from silly penalties and create a few turnovers.

SK: Get back to doing what they do to win football games. Establish a ground game. Create plays with Broyld and the tight ends. Defensively, the secondary needs to somehow keep Campanaro in check (or just let him get what he's going to get) and shut down the run game.

JC: Pressure Price into quick releases and have Campanaro blanketed off the line. Also don't allow Price room to run, because he can and will take off with it. On offense, just don't play outside of your game. Run the ball as much as possible, keeping Wake off-balance with a nice mix of Smith and Gulley.

What do the Demon Deacons need to do to beat the Orange?

SF: Limit the Syracuse offense on third down. The Orange will not have kicker Ryan Norton, who was arrested last Friday for underage possession of alcohol. Syracuse is already in a bind when it comes to kicking. Starting kick Ross Krautman is out for the season. Punter Riley Dixon will likely fill-in. I expect Shafer to forgo longer field goal attempts and go for fourth-down conversions when he can. If Wake can keep Syracuse out of the end zone and keep the score close, special teams play could play a huge factor in deciding the outcome.

MM: I think Wake Forest needs to score first, be it a field goal or a crowd-quieting touchdown, and then put nine guys in the box and make Hunt and the Orange wide receivers beat you. Grobe is a smart coach, so here's betting he's got some trickeration ready for the SU defense and a lot of blitzes dialed up for Hunt and the O-Line.

JS: Make big plays through the air with Campanaro and avoid turnovers. I do think the Deacons can move the ball on this defense through the air. The difference in the game will be turnovers and whether or not Syracuse can get its ground game going to setup some big plays down field.

SK: Keep doing what they've been doing last couple weeks. Syracuse probably can't trackmeet the Deacs so if their defense can attack and contain our QBs, we're in trouble.

JC: Find creative ways to utilize Campanaro (as you have of late) and protect Price early. If he starts taking hits, it'll have disastrous effects later on. Protecting the QB should be paramount, as should taking advantage of opportunities on defense. This is a ball-hawking group of defensive backs and Terrel Hunt is prone to mistakes. They'll have some chances to capitalize on those, especially with a lackluster group of Syracuse receivers.