The Syracuse Orange (4-6, 2-4) is in a do-or-die situation on the road against the Louisville Cardinals (6-4, 3-4) this Saturday. Louisville’s far from the team they were when we faced them last season, but they’re still very good. And they still have Lamar Jackson. That’s enough for us to be fairly concerned.
Since we’re not Louisville fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect in this game. Card Chronicle’s Keith Wynne joins us to chat all about the Cardinals. We answered questions over there too, and we can link to those once they’re live.
Are you guys annoyed at the lack of attention paid to Lamar Jackson's repeat Heisman campaign? Seems like everyone got too used to the numbers he's put up and are ignoring him this year despite huge stat lines.
Speaking for myself here but I don't have any issue with Lamar not getting major attention. Part of that comes down to what the Heisman is now which is a popularity contest. I also think that you have to be on a team that's getting national attention and Louisville just hasn't played well enough to force people to watch their games.
Baker Mayfield seems like the runaway favorite right now and I don't think that anyone that has watched him play would say he isn't deserving. I think that Lamar is having another fantastic year and I wish that the team had played better so that he could make history, but all of the stars have to align when you're not playing for a top-five team and that just didn't happen this year with them getting beat so badly in their biggest games.
When it comes to the fanbase as a whole, people are mostly pretty pissed off. Lamar is having a better season than he had last year so he should win it again seems to be the common thought. It seems to have died down to people wanting him to at least get an invite. I completely agree there but I just don't know that the voters like him as much this season. Louisville winning out would definitely change that.
What's gone wrong for Louisville this year, other than the defense?
One of the biggest issues with this team is the inconsistency on offense. Louisville is putting up a ton of yardage and that masks the fact that they're not scoring a whole lot of points off of that yardage. They're really terrible in the red zone and it's been that way for a few years. They've turned the ball over at least once in every game, but five since 2014. I think the perception is that Bobby Petrino is this offensive genius and Louisville's defense is the issue, but the offense has plenty of issues of their own and they've put the defense in some tough spots in some of these losses.
Louisville also hasn't developed players very well under Petrino. It's extremely obvious on defense with freshmen playing at linebacker and all over the secondary. But, the offense hasn't found consistent playmakers outside of Lamar Jackson either. Jaylen Smith has flashed some high level talent but he's prone to drops and fumbles. Dez Fitzpatrick started the year very strong but he's faded as the season has gone on.
Louisville also hasn't had a running back this year that Petrino seems to like. I'm sure some fans of other teams would love to have some of these problems, but I think most UofL fans came to the realization this year that the offense would be pretty average without Lamar Jackson.
Obviously the FBI issues were largely to do with basketball. But do you see the ramifications having any effect on football at all?
I don't think it has. Louisville is a basketball school and I think a lot of fans look forward to this time of year to get into basketball mode, but Lamar Jackson has really turned a lot of "Louisville basketball fans" into football fans too. Because of that I think that a lot of folks kind of dove into football to put the basketball stuff on the backburner. I also think that Louisville fans were mostly tired of all of the scandals. It has seemed like every few months a new report was coming out and Louisville was at the center of it. It's been kind of nice to feel like we've moved on from some of the folks involved and can maybe look to the future.
When it comes to the football team, recruiting, etc. I haven't seen anything that would make me think there's an impact. The 2018 class is pretty strong right now but there are some rumors of guys flipping or backing out of their commitments. I think that has a lot more to do with the way that the season has gone, though. They just lost a defensive tackle to Missouri and another defensive linemen is rumored as a flip to Miami.
When you have one of the worst defenses in the country you're going to have a hard time getting guys to come play for said defense. The guys on offense all look solid to stick, however. Louisville even has one of their biggest recruiting weekends scheduled for a big home basketball game against Indiana. So I don't think that it has been an issue for the football program.
Reggie Bonnafon's evolution from starting quarterback to jack-of-all-trades has been interesting to watch. How does he make himself a key part of this offense in various ways?
Reggie is probably the best athlete on the offense outside of Lamar. He would've likely stayed at quarterback if Jackson ended up elsewhere, but Petrino decided to try to utilize him to plug some holes on the offense and it has worked out pretty well. I personally think he was at his best at wide receiver, but he's been playing out of position and you can kind of see some of the issues that that causes with him at running back this year.
He hasn't been able to read things as quickly as you would like and that's caused him to miss the hole at times and also to not see where the defense will be when he runs outside. He also doesn't run with a lot of power because that's just not natural for him. I've been really happy to see him have some success as a punt returner. Reggie is the ultimate team guy and he deserves anything good that comes to him. He could've easily transferred when he found out that he wouldn't be playing quarterback but he stuck with the program and he's literally done anything that's been asked of him.
If there's one player this offense relies upon other than Lamar Jackson, who is it?
My first thought was Jaylen Smith at wide receiver. He had a highlight reel catch last week in the corner of the end zone and he is Lamar's favorite target even though he's missed some time this year. But, Syracuse has given up a lot of rushing yards over the last two weeks so I have to go with Dae Williams.
He hasn't played much this year after tearing his ACL in the spring but he's finally fully healthy and the coaches seem to be more comfortable with him. He's a big back that has decent speed once he gets going. The question is whether or not Louisville will commit to the run again. They ran it a lot against FSU and UVA and those are the last two games that they won. My hope is that they've noticed that throwing the ball 40+ times a game hasn't worked and they will stick with what has.
Which Syracuse player concerns you the most, other than Eric Dungey (assuming he plays)?
I really wanted Steve Ishmael here at Louisville as a recruit so I'm pretty biased towards him. I really love how he's developed as a route runner. He does all of those savvy things to get open that have killed Louisville all year. Against NC State, Louisville allowed their top three receivers to pull in their longest reception of the year against them. At that point nine different receivers could make that claim. They've improved as the year has gone on but I'm still not sold that a really good receiver won't go off on them.
I'm also keeping my eye on Moe Neal. I know that he's the second running back, but he is also much more likely to turn a small seam into a big run. I've been wondering why he isn't utilized more for two years now and I still don't have an answer. Dontae Strickland hasn't averaged four yards yet but Neal is over five for his career.
Usage plays a factor there but with the read option things that they like to do, you would think that Neal would provide the bigger plays for them. Louisville has had issues with power backs this year, but they're not a very fast defense and I think that a speed back could cause some serious issues for them.
Name one characteristic of this Louisville team that's not necessarily evident from the stats.
I pointed this out earlier, but it would have to be that the offense isn't as dynamic as it seems. Lamar Jackson masks a lot of the deficiencies, as one might imagine. A good example of how the offense being inefficient is the third quarter of the Boston College game. The offense only ran 10 plays for the whole quarter and held the ball for just over three minutes. The ended their last drive with a pick-six. BC scored 21 unanswered points and UofL was in a hole that they couldn't climb out of. The defense is bad but that shows up in the stats. I think that the offense gets a free pass because they look so good on paper.
Prediction time: Who wins this one and how?
I've been down on this team all year, but I can't help but feel that they've turned the corner after last week. They played their best game and Syracuse is coming off of their worst game. I think it comes down to Louisville playing on senior day with a lot of key players playing in their last home game. I think that includes Lamar Jackson, by the way. I think that Jackson has a huge game and ends up with a big game on the ground. Syracuse keeps up with Ishmael and Ervin Philips having big games but Jackson is too much to overcome.