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Syracuse vs. Boston College preview: Five things to watch

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No matter who wins or loses, this one has #NarrativeBall written all over it.

Boston College v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange (3-4, 1-2) pulled off a thrilling upset over Virginia Tech last week, as you well know. But now they get back on the road to take on the rival Boston College Eagles (3-3, 0-3). Plenty of narratives at play here. Does Syracuse suffer from post-Tech letdown? Will Steve Addazio be a dead man walking if BC loses? Will a win here put either team on track to go bowling?

Before we get to those questions, however, let’s focus on the actual game. What will be some of Syracuse’s biggest challenges when they take on the Eagles? And what are some key elements of the game to keep an eye on? We give you five below:

1. Force Boston College to pass

No, BC’s offense still isn’t great in any aspect. But the key to derailing them early is to force them to move the ball through the air. With Patrick Towles at the helm, the Eagles own the 114th-ranked passing offense in the country, amassing under 160 yards per game. That’s probably not going to work.

Syracuse has excelled in games against equal or lesser talent when it uses speed and pace to create a lead. If they can jump out to the types of 14-point advantages they possessed against UConn and Virginia Tech, it’ll force Boston College to keep up by moving the ball quicker than they’re comfortable with. The Huskies had Noel Thomas to help move the passing game, and the Hokies had Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges (among others). Boston College isn’t so lucky. Leading receiver Jeff Smith has just 15 catches on the year. If BC needs points, there’s no singular playmaker to rely on.

The one plus for the Eagles is that their offensive line has actually held up well this year, keeping Towles upright and only allowing seven sacks in six games. That’s not the easiest thing to do when you’ve already faced aggressive teams like Virginia Tech and Clemson. SU has one of the country’s lower sack totals, with just 11 on the year (93rd in the FBS).

2. Syracuse must attack with tempo

Of Boston College’s six opponents thus far, just one (Virginia Tech) has run more than 61 plays in a game. The Hokies ran 77 altogether and were just able to outrun the Eagles in a 49-0 victory. Clemson and UMass had 61 plays, but the more talented of those two (obviously the former) was brutally efficient en route to a blowout win.

We’ve seen how Syracuse’s offense gets derailed when they don’t play at the pace Dino Babers is looking for. The team’s 66 plays each against Wake Forest and UConn show two potential outcomes to a slower game, but both are undesirable for another game against a similar-to-less talented opponent.

Again, Tech showed the blueprint on how to take it right to Boston College with pace. The Hokies did it primarily on the ground, so SU will have the opposite sort of attack there. But setting the game to the Orange’s tempo will mean positive results, and a BC team on their heels on both sides of the ball.

Speaking of pace...

3. Bad Weather 2: The Re-Weathering?

We know what happened to Syracuse when they went up against both Wake Forest AND the elements down in Winston-Salem a couple weeks ago. While this Saturday will be a far cry from those sorts of conditions, Syracuse.com’s Stephen Bailey draws attention to some less-favorable news for the Orange. A 44-percent chance of rain isn’t a welcome sight, no matter your 44-related positive superstitions. And 25-30 mile-per-hour winds will do the passing game no favors, either.

Again, not the sorts of conditions we saw for the Wake game. But with wind like that, we could see the Orange passing game slowed a bit. That means more of the running game, and hopefully utilizing Jordan Fredericks a bit earlier this week. BC has the country’s 10th-ranked rushing defense, by the way — and that’s after facing Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Let’s hope that forecast shifts a bit before kickoff.

4. Defense must continue to be disruptive

Former SU defensive back and newly-minted TNIAAM writer Julian Whigham discussed some of the improvements in the Orange defense over last few weeks, and one of them included getting after the ball more. While the Tampa-2 calls for more of a coverage focus and less “big plays” than the previous scheme, there’s still a place for defenders to create turnovers within that construct.

Boston College has lost 10 turnovers this season, but you’ll find the majority of those in their three losses — three vs. Georgia Tech, two vs. Virginia Tech and two against Clemson. The key, obviously, is to find ways to force those errors (especially in terms of interceptions). Syracuse’s uptick on that front lately has come from pushing teams out of their element. Going back to bullet no. 1 here, if you put Towles in must-pass situations, it’ll feel forced. Without any high-quality receivers, it’ll be up to the Kentucky transfer QB to make difficult throws on obvious passing downs. These are prime conditions for turnovers by an offense far more comfortable with slowly running the ball downfield.

5. Keep Eric Dungey upright

Cody Conway’s return to the offensive line last week may not have appeared to have a major impact given how much Dungey was under pressure vs. the Hokies. But imagine if he hadn’t been there. It could’ve been far worse against an aggressive Virginia Tech front.

This week, he, and the rest of the Syracuse O-line, will be called on once again to take on a strong blitz scheme that’ll be playing like they have nothing to lose (because if they lose this game, this coaching staff’s potentially toast). BC has 18 sacks on the year (28th in the country), and possesses the FBS’s fifth-ranked passing defense. While there are caveats to be had for the fact that three of their opponents -- Wagner, Buffalo and UMass — were inferior and another (Georgia Tech) was run-heavy, it’s still notable that they’ve held teams to just 51.4-percent completions.

Even if the Eagles can’t get sacks, the hits and pressures can still wear down Dungey and the Orange offense over the course of a game. Dungey will need to be ready with a quick release, and the line needs to keep improving its pass-blocking. While last week’s 100-yard rushing effort was a critical aspect of upsetting Virginia Tech, it was also born of necessity. Dungey was under fire for much of the afternoon, but he made plays despite constant pressure and hits. Best to avoid a repeat of that if we can.

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These are some starting points for conversation, but plenty of other angles to take a look at, too. Any more key matchups or narratives you’re focused in on in advance of Syracuse’s game against Boston College? Weigh in below.