It feels like Christmas is extended a few more days, as we’re finally in the middle of Bowl Week for the Syracuse Orange. The No. 17 ‘Cuse squad will take on the No. 15 West Virginia Mountaineers in the Camping World Bowl on Friday, renewing a rivalry with the former Big East and Eastern Independent foes. These are two evenly matched teams, so what should we be watching to tilt the scales?
1. Who is Jack Allison? And will he be anything close to Will Grier?
The former was answered pretty readily when we found out Grier was sitting this bowl out; a Miami Hurricanes transfer, the 4* QB hasn’t played much since arriving in Morgantown. But he’s built to be an NFL Pro-Style QB who’s good enough to be offered and transfer to D-1 schools. As for the later? I’d opt to say no, but that doesn’t mean Allison lacks talent. He knows WVU’s system well at this point, and should have a full playbook. Expect to see short passes early to set up his confidence, something I’m sure Brian Ward is expecting and should attack.
2. How does ‘Cuse handle the two-QB strategy?
Dana Holgerson has said it won’t just be Allison taking on the Orange; Trey Lowe will also somehow feature in the gameplan. This sure feels like football’s version of the infamous basketball “white guy shooter off the bench,” and Lowe’s dual threat capabilities certainly worries me. ‘Cuse hasn’t had great success handling true dual threat signal callers, but the Orange’s increased sack rate on standard downs (6.6%) and blitz downs (14.2%) show the improved ability to get into the backfield. That will have to continue, but won’t be easy because...
3. Will the linebackers step up with a weakened defensive line?
With Alton Robinson and McKinley Williams missing the Camping World Bowl due to “personal reasons,” the defensive line will be missing some serious bite, no offense to Chris Slayton and Kendall Coleman. The former should have a favorable matchup due to the absence of Yodney Cajuste. Pending Slayton pulling a Chandler Jones, this game’s defensive strategy will rely heavily on the linebacking corps to take advantage of any gaps and close down Williams. Ryan Guthrie and Kielan Whitner really looked good in ACC play, with the former being the most effective linebacker per S&P+. Their last game in Orange will need to be the best they’ve had.
4. How does ‘Cuse opt to attack the Mountaineers?
S&P+ likes West Virginia to win this game over ‘Cuse because of the offense, but that does change with Grier out. The Mountaineers defense is ranked lower than ‘Cuse overall (81 vs 60), and there’s a clear weakness to exploit. WVU is 115th if defensive rushing efficiency, but they’re stuffing teams (a yard or less) on a quarter of all snaps. They’re not much better in the pass defense, ranking 101st in efficiency and only sacking the opponents on 4.6% of passing plays. Naturally, an up tempo team like Syracuse should be able to run a mixed playbook, but it sure sounds like Eric Dungey will have time to throw and lanes to run designed keepers. So naturally...
5. Which Eric Dungey shows up for his last game in Orange?
This season, we’ve seen variance between hero ball, gunslinging Dungey and efficient, impossible to stop Heisman candidate Dungey. Somewhere in the middle is probably Boston College game Dungey, where he scored six touchdowns, but had a few “wtf” moments both good and bad. West Virginia seems like a team that would be ripped to shreds by that version of the Syracuse senior; in their last two shootout losses to dual threat QBs (Oklahoma State and Oklahoma), WVU gave up 111 yards on the ground vs Taylor Cornelius and 114 vs Kyler Murray.
I legitimately cannot think of a better potential ending for one of the best quarterbacks to ever put on a helmet for ‘Cuse.