The Syracuse Orange (1-0; 0-0) will take on the No. 13 Louisville Cardinals (1-0; 0-0) Friday night in what will be each team’s first ACC game of the year. While both Syracuse and Louisville won their respective season openers in resounding fashion last week, the Cardinals remain a heavy favorite Friday – and for good reason.
Led by star quarterback Lamar Jackson, Louisville won their first game against the Charlotte 49ers by a score of 70-14. The score itself isn’t even a proper reflection of how dominant Louisville played last week, as Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino elected to pull the majority of his starters at halftime after his team raced out to a 56-0 lead.
While Syracuse may be a 15-point underdog, it is not completely out of the question that the Orange are able to pull off the upset, as crazier outcomes have already happened this season (come on, did you watch ANY college football last week?!).
Here are the three things Syracuse will need to do if they are to upset Louisville in the team’s ACC opener Friday night.
Contain Lamar Jackson
First off, this is MUCH harder than it sounds. Jackson, a rising Heisman Trophy candidate, ran wild during Louisville’s season opener last week, accounting for more than 400 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns – all before Petrino mercifully pulled the dual-threat quarterback at halftime.
Since Syracuse’s defense does not have the necessary personnel to stop Jackson, at the very least they need to try to contain him, i.e. have the front seven keep him in the pocket and hope the defensive backs can stay with Louisville’s star receivers and limit any big plays.
Jackson may have managed to throw for nearly 300 yards and six touchdowns last game, but he is still more dangerous out of the pocket – posing as a threat to potentially run the ball – than he is in it.
While many praised Jackson – and rightfully so – for his performance in Louisville’s win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl last season, he still completed less than 50 percent of his passes, 12 of 26, in that game and didn’t necessarily look effective as a passer.
Syracuse’s best bet to slow Jackson down is to keep the sophomore quarterback in the pocket and force him into making some of the foolish mistakes that frustrated Petrino and Louisville fans so much at times early last season.
Which brings me to my next point...
Win the Turnover Battle
Turnovers are key whenever a team is trying to pull of an upset, simply take a closer look at some of the surprising upsets that happened just last week.
Texas A&M took down No. 16 UCLA after forcing Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen into throwing three interceptions. Les Miles is back on the hot seat following No. 5 LSU’s shocking loss to Wisconsin. Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris threw an interception – his second of the night – on the LSU’s last drive of the game, sealing his team’s fate. And No. 3 Oklahoma fumbled on two consecutive drives early in the third quarter, leading to Houston taking a 33-17 lead en route to the Cougars’ upset win.
Last season, Syracuse nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in recent memory after forcing Clemson into three turnovers and entering the fourth quarter down by just a single touchdown. However, the Tigers were able to overcome the 3-1 turnover deficit and secure the win.
If Syracuse is to close the deal and upset Louisville Friday, winning the turnover battle will be crucial. While Jackson is now suddenly a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, he is still inconsistent when throwing from the pocket. He’s susceptible to making poor decisions with the football, evident by his seven interceptions in his first seven games last season.
Convert in the Red Zone
One of the biggest concerns that arose from Syracuse’s 33-7 win over Colgate was the team’s lack of success in the red zone. Four separate times the Orange drove deep into Colgate territory only to have the drive stall and be forced to settle for a field goal.
While Syracuse was able to overcome their red zone woes against an inferior opponent like Colgate, they will have a much smaller margin for error against Louisville. Syracuse coach Dino Babers even admitted as such in his post-game press conference following Syracuse’s season-opening win.
“We will do whatever we think we think we need to do to win. And on that note, going down the road, fourth down – if we have to go for it, we have to go for it. And we have to score touchdowns, we can’t kick field goals all the time. If we go for it for four times and we don’t make it, then you guys get to be ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacks’ and talk about how bad we are. But I’m already telling you after our first game that we are going to do those things, because we’re not playing to be close, we’re playing to win. And if winning means we can’t kick field goals and have to go for it every single time, then we will – regardless of the score.”
Quarterback Eric Dungey may have been nearly perfect last week, completing 34 of 40 passes for more than 350 yards, but he and the Orange offense will need to be even more efficient against Louisville if Syracuse has any hope at pulling off the upset.
Do you agree? What are some of the other factors you believe Syracuse needs to focus on if they’re to pull off the upset? Leave a comment below.