The No. 13 Syracuse Orange play their last “home” game of the season tomorrow night, hosting the Louisville Cardinals at the Carrier Dome on ESPN2. This should be a tribute to Syracuse’s seniors, who should feature heavily in the Orange gameplan and be successful against a not-great-at-all Cardinals team. What should you be watching for in this one?
1. How much does ‘Cuse commit to the ground game?
As mentioned in John’s preview Q&A earlier this week, Louisville’s defense is bad. Like, UConn-level bad. They’re 120th in S&P+ rushing defense, so the Orange should pound the ball early and often. Moe Neal and Dontae Strickland should handle most of the duties, but Jarveon Howard should be given carries as well. The question is on Senior Day, are they really going to be okay keeping Dungey’s dropbacks to under 30 for the game? Because in reality, while we may not say it outright...
2. Do the Orange use the full playbook?
You absolutely cannot overlook conference opponents, even at home. But Syracuse has a potential program-defining game versus Notre Dame at a “neutral site” (Yankee Stadium in the Bronx) next week. Early in the year, the playbook wasn’t truly opened up until after the Florida State game. Against a team like the Cardinals that hasn’t stopped anybody this year, does Dino and staff agree to keep things simple and just let their talent (and UL’s lack of effort at this juncture) win the game? Oh my, that’s a weird sentence to type.
3. Who gets more pressure: the line or linebackers?
Louisville is 118th in the country at allowing sacks on passing downs, giving up a sack at a 12.5% clip. They’re also only converting plays 16.7% of the time versus any blitz, so I’m expecting to see plenty of blue jerseys in the backfield. Kielan Whitner and Ryan Guthrie have emerged as the two best front-seven players for the Orange in conference play, but Alton Robinson (when healthy) and Chris Slayton have dominated inferior offense lines to date.
Robinson and Kendall Coleman lead the team with seven sacks apiece, but four more players have at least two (and SU’s racked up 27 on the season — the most since 2014). Whether they get to the QB or not, their pressure is going to define what Louisville can and can’t do.
4. Does Syracuse have corner depth?
There have been questions about the Orange’s health coming into this contest, and with Notre Dame on the horizon, depth stepping up for the final home game would be a nice respite for some of the regular, banged up starters. Trill Williams has had some serious flashes of brilliance. Is that something that can be sustained all game? Ifeatu Melifonwu has looked solid, but he didn’t travel last game due to injury. If he can’t go, who spells Scoop Bradshaw? Tyrone Perkins is done for the year, so do we see more out of freshman Eric Coley? If SU’s pressure can’t pick up sacks while blitzing, this becomes a much more glaring issue.
5. Do fans stay after the game for the #SeniorWalk?
I’m not going to wade into #FanGate on who and what is a true fan based on Friday attendance (wander around on Twitter, if you dare). I’ve beaten it to death that winning wouldn’t solve attendance problems, but we’re at the end of the season. One thing Syracuse doesn’t do a great job of is upholding traditions.
Dino’s awesome idea for a final Senior Walk is an awesome start for something that should keep on long after Dino eventually leaves (even if that’s just because he’s retiring — fingers crossed?). Let’s see if fans buy in, because if nothing else, I know there will be plenty of families, friends and a handful of students who stay for the alma mater who will make it worth it.