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Syracuse vs. North Carolina football preview: Five things to watch for

Can Syracuse take care of business at home? I sure think so.

Connecticut v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange are celebrating homecoming Orange Central by hosting the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Cassillo #DisloyalIdiot Bowl, presented by In-N-Out Burger. Syracuse is favored by double digits, and a post-bye week fifth win to stop a two-game skid would be huge. What’s going to decide if that happens? I’ve got five things I’ll be watching.

How does Eric Dungey look coming off the bye?

I think every ‘Cuse fans was worried by Dungey’s play during the Pitt game. Dungey tried playing hero ball, and his 18-of-38 passing day for 195 yards and two interceptions game was as meh as those stats read. Dungey had looked strong when healthy prior to the Pitt game, so any kind of injury should have time to heal. If it was mental, the bye week came at a great time to clear the head and reset before some seriously important games. UNC is 53rd in defensive S&P+, the highest rating of any non-Clemson team the Orange have faced to date. Dungey being sharp is crucial.

What kind of first quarter offensive strategy do we see?

I’m not the play-calling guy, but after the first two Orange touchdown drives, the Orange offense suddenly started sputtering. Bill C. has repeatedly said he doesn’t love ‘Cuse’s offense on Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody because it is too inefficient and reliant on Dungey’s legs. Setting the tone early with scoring drives will do a lot for fan confidence in what should be a packed Dome. The staff has had an extra week to prepare and get a gameplay together; It’s officially time to open up the playbook and start really mixing up the calls to get the team rolling.

Does the front four continue to dominate lesser foes?

UNC is 107th in offensive S&P+. That is... bad. Like really bad. Only Florida State is lower in the non-Wagner division of Syracuse’s schedule. So far, the front four has done an excellent job creating pressure against poor offensive lines, racking up 20 sacks on the season, and if the Orange’s offense struggles to get going, we could have a re-run of the last ACC game in the Dome (against the ‘Noles). Of course, FSU’s offensive line is also a lot worse than what we’ll see from the Heels, too.

Just how healthy is the secondary?

The Orange are holding opponents to an astounding 19-for-83 (22.89 %) on third down. Part of that is the front four, but a lot of that has been the secondary bending but not breaking. Andre Cisco and Antwan Cordy got the OR on the depth chart, which apparently isn’t an injury thing. Regardless, those two are probably the best two coverage players the Orange have right now, so their health is key. Oh, we didn’t even cover Christopher Fredrick, who's been dinged up a bit. Hopefully, all three used the bye week to get healthy and are going at 100% on Saturday.

Does the Orange field position mastery continue?

The Orange are first in field position in the country. This isn’t an accident anymore as we know just how damn good the special teams unit is. What has really helped the Orange has been absolutely crushing bad teams in the Dome in the field position battle, something I’m sure Dino loves. If that trend continues versus UNC, ‘Cuse is going to be very well set up to efficiently snag the W.