In the midst of a five-game losing streak, Syracuse will visit Louisville on Saturday in another game the Orange desperately need to win. Before the two teams meet up, let's turn to Bill Connelly's advanced statistical profiles to get a feel of how the game might turn out.
Projecting a Louisville win
In Connelly's S&P+ Ratings, which are defined here, Louisville is ranked as the country's 36th best team, whereas Syracuse comes in at 76th. It's thus not surprising that Connelly gives Louisville an 80 percent chance to win on Saturday, with a projected final score of 33.5-19.1.
The Cardinals haven't played great this season, but they've done pretty well at home, where they nearly beat Clemson. The Orange, on the other hand, have yet to win a game away from the Carrier Dome in three tries. All of this is to say that, yes, it's probably fair to expect Louisville will win -- though I would probably give SU better than a 20 percent chance to pull off the upset.
Something has to give
Syracuse's defense has had its fair share of issues this season, as the Orange rank just 74th in defensive S&P+. And opposing offenses have had little trouble finishing drives against SU; once those offenses get inside SU's 40-yard line, they score 4.8 points on average. That ranks Syracuse's defense just 82nd in the country in that category.
But SU might have a decent chance to turn it around this week. That's because Louisville's offense struggles to finish drives, averaging just 4.15 points after it gets inside its opponent's 40-yard line -- just 104th-best in the country. So something has to give.
On the other side of the ball, the Orange should have the clear advantage in this department. They average 5.44 points after they get inside their opponent's 40-yard line, 17th-best in the country, while the Cardinals surrender an average of 5.15 points to opposing offenses after they get inside the Louisville 40.
But Louisville is more explosive
While it's encouraging that Syracuse is better than Louisville in terms of finishing drives and preventing opponents from finishing drives, the Orange also have less big play ability than the Cardinals.
Neither Syracuse nor Louisville's offenses are particular explosive. SU's offense ranks 88th in explosiveness, which measures a team's points per play on "successful plays," whereas Louisville's ranks only 85th.
But the difference is that Louisville's defense has been better at preventing big plays than Syracuse's defense has. The Orange defense ranks 40th in explosiveness, giving up 1.19 points per successful play, while the Cardinals defense ranks 25th, giving up 1.15 points per successful play.
According to Connelly, the team that wins the explosiveness battle wins 86 percent of the time. And based on what we've seen this season, Louisville seems to be more likely to be that team on Saturday.
Third quarter, third down will be crucial for SU offense
Louisville's defense has been excellent this season, ranking 17th nationally in S&P+. It's been especially good in the first half, ranking fourth in S&P+ in the first quarter and eighth in the second quarter.
The Cardinals' defense is also pretty good in the fourth quarter, when they rank 21st in S&P+. But it has been vulnerable in the third quarter, when it ranks just 59th in S&P+. Unfortunately for Syracuse, the Orange offense might not be able to take advantage of that. It ranks just 75th in offensive S&P+ in the third quarter, making that quarter its second-worst.
But Louisville's defense has also been susceptible on third down. While it ranks 13th and ninth in S&P+ on first and second down, respectively, it's only 61st-best in that category on third down. And though the Orange haven't been great offensively on third down themselves, they have been decent, ranking 65th in offensive S&P+. Third down is always crucial, but it could be even more important on Saturday.