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Syracuse vs. Central Michigan preview: Five things to watch

Or, most importantly: How do we avoid last week happening again?

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (1-1) are suddenly in a critical spot here, desperately needing a win over the Central Michigan Chippewas (2-0) to have any marginal chance at a bowl bid. There were some glaring issues for the Orange last week, but only harping on them also ignores how close SU was to potentially winning, too. That doesn’t excuse last week’s faults. It just provides some extra perspective that things aren’t necessarily as bad as they appear right now.

So what should we be on the lookout for going into Syracuse’s matchup with the Chips? We identify five things below:

1. How do you stop Shane Morris?

Morris never really put up much of a stat line at Michigan, but in just two games at CMU, he’s already made quite an impact. Against Kansas last week, he threw for 467 yards and five touchdowns on 76 percent passing. The Jayhawks’ defense is nothing to brag about, but it’s not as if quarterbacks trip and fall into that sort of stat line, regardless of opponent.

For Morris, there’s no single way to defend against him. He was able to complete passes both short and long vs. KU, and it’ll take a stronger effort from Syracuse’s secondary than they displayed in the second half last week. The absence of a couple top receiving options helps, but the Orange’s best chance will be to apply some real pressure (much like they did in the early goings vs. MTSU).

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Kansas Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

2. Exploiting CMU’s secondary without falling for the turnover trap

Despite allowing over 300 passing yards per game so far, Central Michigan’s also picked off eight passes. Josh Cox leads the way with three all on his own. While Dungey has never been “prone” to interceptions, necessarily, he’s also known to throw a casual ball here and there (see last week). And the Orange also struggle in the red zone, where CMU actually excels stopping opponents. Something obviously has to give.

Though Syracuse has failed to truly identify an over-the-top option in the passing game, the Chippewas have shown themselves susceptible to giving up large chunks of yardage through the air already and against a team like SU, could do so again. Eric Dungey won’t just dink and dunk his way down to the field on screens to Steve Ishmael. The Orange will need to figure out how to achieve larger gains.

3. Can either team’s run game break through?

In both of Syracuse and Central Michigan’s recent matchups with one another, the Chips did not have the benefit of their top running back. That won’t be the case this time around, however, as Jonathan Ward and Devin Spalding are both set to see the field. We’ve seen Spalding before, but Ward’s an unknown for us. That’s potentially problematic as the sophomore is averaging nearly seven yards per carry on 30 rushes this year.

SU doesn’t have the same surefire option as the No. 1 back. Dontae Strickland and Moe Neal can’t move the pile in the middle, and the team doesn’t appear to be handing Markenzy Pierre the job just yet. Introducing the tank package again should give Chris Elmore carries in short yardage situations. But it’s hard to imagine the team’s standard run game is going to improve much without a change in personnel.

4. Mark Chapman can’t be the only receiver

More than a quarter of Central Michigan’s receiving yards won’t be on the field this weekend, given Corey Willis and Brandon Childress’s respective injuries. That leaves Chapman (13 catches, 256 yards, three TDs) as the best remaining option. But it can’t just be on him.

Logan Hessbrook is another option, but this is very largely a one-man show in the passing game, which will force Morris and the passing game to be a bit more creative. Syracuse largely had to focus on a couple receivers -- Richie James, Ty Lee -- last week, and that didn’t see to work out too well. SU’s corners will need to do a better job at the line of scrimmage this week vs. last. But their job’s a bit easier with lesser options to cover.

5. What gives on third down?

After a strong start to the year converting on third down, Syracuse dropped off significantly last week, going just 8-for-22. Central Michigan’s holding opponents to just a 27 percent conversion rate, which should cause some immediate concern for the running-challenged Orange.

That said, the same points could be made on the other end. SU has allowed just four conversions on 27 tries, and unlucky for the Chippewas, they’re one of the worst teams converting on third (28.13 percent). At least one of these teams is going to further exacerbate the other’s issues moving the sticks.

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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 Central Michigan? Weigh in below.