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Syracuse vs NC State football preview: Five things to watch

‘Cuse and the Wolfpack meet in primetime on ESPN2. What’s the world going to watch?

Syracuse v North Carolina State Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange face an enormous opportunity on Saturday night, taking on the NC State Wolfpack in the first night game in CNY since 2010. Can the Orange capitalize and secure a bowl win? Or will State continue to roll over non-Clemson opposition? Here are the five questions that will decide the outcome.

Who gets more snaps: Eric Dungey or Tommy DeVito?

The biggest question on the minds of Syracuse fans is not who starts. That will almost assuredly be Dungey. However if Dungey is missing his throws early, will Babers have a quick hook for his senior? I think we all know game situation decides a lot of this, so the next four questions will influence the big one looming over the game.

The Dungey we see early dictates what happens with the quarterback position thereafter. If he’s missing reads and floating passes, one could assume DeVito is in there pretty soon. But if we see the Dungey that was struggling through the second half last Saturday, Tommy will be under center without much delay.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

What happens when NC State stops the basic rushing attack?

NC State has the nation’s eighth-best rushing defense according to S&P+, something that will surely frustrate the Orange’s offense game plan. The Wolfpack are very good at stopping the run on standard downs (13th in marginal efficiency, compared to ‘Cuse offense at 66th), but both teams are more even in explosiveness. So how does ‘Cuse handle what will likely be minimal one to two yard gains on the ground? Trust Dungey/DeVito to air it out? Or keep attacking and hoping for a big Moe Neal/Dontae Strickland run?

Is Syracuse’s defense able to handle NC State’s (lack of) pace?

The Wolfpack are a slow freakin’ team, so if you’re into yin/yang, have we got a game for you. NC State’s offense isn’t going to win games by running; they’re going to let Ryan Finley air it out. They’re the fourth most efficient passing team in the country, and yet rank 79th in marginal explosiveness; they’re the college passing offense version of Lingchi. The ‘Cuse defense hasn’t faced a team this slow and methodically yet, so there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Scoop Bradshaw and Christopher Fredrick to buy time for the Orange front seven to make some noise. But that won’t be easy; while ‘Cuse is sacking QBs on 14% of passing downs, NC State is only allowing that to happen 2.3% of the time. Which leads me to...

Louisville v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Which third down trend breaks first?

A result of this slow pace and efficient offense? Only 69% of NC State’s first downs are coming on 1st or 2nd down (That’s 64th in the country.) and their average third down distance is 7.7 yards. (/grabs Stephen A. Smith) HOWEVAH, they are converting third downs at an insane 53.5% clip, a top-10 rate in the country and are top-five in converting third and longs at just under 48%. Meanwhile, the Orange are second in the country at third and long defense and fourth in third and medium distance. Even splitting the extremes to an average amount would be a huge win for ‘Cuse.

How does the Orange take advantage on special teams?

You know how the Orange are really good at special teams and No. 1 in the country on average starting field position? NC State is none of that. They’re 112th in average field position, in the 100’s for kickoff and punt efficiency and they’re in the 80s for returning efficiency. The Orange are fourth in punt return efficiency, so stop a few more third downs than the Wolfpack are used to and there’s a huge weakness to be exploited.

NCSU is actually well-acquainted with what happens when special teams go poorly. Playing an AJ Dillon-less Boston College earlier this season, it was collapses on special teams that erased a big deficit and almost let the Eagles back in. You don’t have entire threads about changing your kickoff philosophy if things are going well on special teams.