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Syracuse vs. Florida State football preview: Five things to watch

We circled this game pre-season, and now it’s true: A partially weakened Florida State comes to the Dome Saturday.

NCAA Football: Wagner at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

When the Syracuse Orange and Florida State Seminoles meet at noon in the Carrier Dome, it’s going to feel weird. Up until this point, there’s been minimal expectations for a game against one of the conference’s football elites. But with last year’s Clemson game in our memories and a struggling FSU team coming up North, fans are (rightly or wrongly) thinking upset.

What’s going to determine if an upset happens? And what are the key matchups to the game? We’ve got five things to watch for in this one.

Deondre Francois starts figuring out the offense (or doesn’t)

A big reason why there are doubts around Florida State right now is Francois and his lack of command on the new offensive system Willie Taggart has installed for the ‘Noles. So far, Francois is averaging 6.7 yards per attempt (not terrible!) but has three touchdowns and three interceptions (not great!).

You also have to factor in that most of those yards and all the scores came against Stamford. What’s more important is Francois’s comfort making reads; It was obvious to most that against a nasty Virginia Tech defense, the senior was simply making the wrong reads most of the night. If the Orange want to win, they need to do whatever it takes to make the FSU quarterback as uncomfortable as possible. Thus far, blitzing is the only way that Syracuse has been able to do that to opposing quarterbacks.

NCAA Football: Wagner at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Will anyone other than Andre Cisco step up in the secondary?

The true freshman has three interceptions and two breakups on the season, both of which lead the team. Heck, the team only has 12 of those combined! It’s a stretch right now to see anyone else making the necessary play(s). As I just mentioned above, Francois has been prone to making the wrong read so far if pressured, and the Orange HAVE to be ready to take advantage of these opportunities, even if the ball isn’t thrown near Cisco.

Scoop Bradshaw? Antwan Cordy? Evan Foster? There simply has to be another playmaker out there making Francois think twice about where he targets that ball.

Eric Dungey vs. big opponents

There are exceptions, of course (hi, 4-interception game against Miami). But for the most part, the Orange quarterback does show up against big opponents. Last year, he was a combined 76-of-126 for 821 passing yards and six touchdowns, plus another 194 yards and two TDs on the ground in the three games against Clemson, Florida State and LSU.

So far in 2018, he’s had 646 total yards and eight scores. We joke about #Dungey4Heisman, but a 3-0 start with another 300-400 total yards and a few touchdowns against FSU? It may not be a ruse anymore.

Which Sean Riley do we get?

After not doing much at all against Western Michigan, Riley looked explosive versus Wagner, with a weird tipped-ball touchdown to boot. It sure seems like FSU could be exploited in their linebacking core, which opens the door for a shifty pass-catcher and runner like Riley.

His constant pre-snap motions and ability to quickly get into the middle of the field should lead to favorable matchups. But that assumes we get the version or Riley that caught six passes for 54 yards last week. The junior has had games like this (and better) in the past, only to disappear afterward. Hopefully, the Wagner game was his first of many standout efforts rather than a flash in the pan.

The matchup that decides the game? The trenches when FSU has the ball.

At the end of the day, I think it’s all going to come down to this matchup. FSU is injured along the line, with Landon Dickerson and Cole Minshew out for chunks of time and leaving the Seminoles mixing and matching players.

Want to make Francois uncomfortable from the jump and avoid a situation where FSU is running all over the defense? Win at the point of attack with the Orange’s front four of Alton Robinson, Chris Slayton, McKinley Williams and Kendall Coleman. None of these players has more than seven total tackles on the year yet, preferring to open space for the linebackers (or just not being able to plug up holes so far). They should be familiar with an up-tempo offense from practice, so it’s all about being far more aggressive and executing.