The No. 20 Syracuse Orange will face off with the No. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers in Orlando later this month in the Camping World Bowl. When announced, it was billed as top-flight quarterback matchup, with NFL prospect Will Grier and ‘Cuse record-setter Eric Dungey getting last shots against less-than-stellar defenses (at least if you’re looking at the raw numbers).
That changed dramatically over the weekend though, with news breaking that Grier will forgo the bowl game in favor of NFL Draft preparation. This made waves, including in Vegas, where the Orange went from a touchdown underdog to just a 2-point ‘dog.
But that isn’t the only impactful player decision for this game, either. Mountaineer tackle Yodny Cajuste will also sit out the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
So what does this mean for the Orange? While Vegas hasn’t quite picked it up, the loss of two top NFL prospects should drop this to a pick ‘em at best. Why? Let’s start with the Cajuste omission. The Orange were third in the country in defensive blitz down success, and 18th in sack rate on those downs. A big part of that was Alton Robinson, who has 10 sacks on the season. Robinson would have lined up versus Cajuste, so this greatly benefits the Orange and opens up a much easier lane to generate pressure off the outside.
While the Orange were an excellent blitzing team this year, they were also susceptible to big pass plays, ranking 96th in the country there. Grier was at the helm of an offense that was seventh in country in explosive plays, so it’s on Miami transfer Jack Allison to try and take advantage of that Syracuse weakness (in part falling on the secondary). Allison has only attempted 10 passes on the year, so these extra practices will be crucial for WVU to use the time for gameplan adjustments.
Will Alison be able to replicate Grier? I don’t know (or think so, based on Grier’s pedigree). This is why I think Cajuste’s absence is huge. When you have a quarterback filling in who does not have a ton of recent high-level experience, the defense needs to create discomfort. The Orange have done well blitzing and forcing turnovers all year, so that’s the most likely route for ‘Cuse to find success.
This does favor SU. Against NC State, we saw what happens when a high-octane offense with an NFL-ready QB can do against the Orange (473 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, if you forgot). With Brian Ward’s squad given a clear opening along the line to attack, they’ll do so until Allison proves he can beat them repeatedly.
I won’t say this leads to an Orange win (yet), but I do think it opens the door for an exclamation mark on the 2018 season, in the form of a potential 10th win.