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Syracuse vs. Florida State preview: 5 things to watch for

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Talkin’ bout how the Orange handle the ‘Noles.

Pittsburgh v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

At the beginning of the season, I can almost guarantee that Syracuse Orange and Florida State Seminoles fans felt entirely different about this matchup than they do now. Both teams sit at 3-4, and are looking at this game as a key to getting to at least salvaging this season and a 6-6 record to go bowling. For the Orange, the monkey is off their back; They defeated Florida State last year, proving that the ‘Noles are not unflappable. But now they have to do it in Tallahassee, against a coaching staff needing a win to keep their seats mildly warm. How could they do it? I’ve got 5 things to watch for.

How do the Orange contain Cam Akers, if at all?

Cam Akers is easily the bright spot on what’s been a disappointing FSU season. Even with one of the worst offensive lines in the conference, Akers has managed 773 yards on the ground, averaging five yards per carry. He’s the reason FSU’s offense is as high as 43rd in SP+, and had success against ‘Cuse the last time they came to Tallahassee to the tune of 199 yards and three scores. Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman can only do so much, and I bet FSU attempts to run between the guards to avoid those two and attack Orange linebackers more directly.

What’s the status of Andre Cisco and Ifeatu Melifonwu?

Part of Syracuse’s ability to stack the box with confidence to stop Akers comes from how much they can trust the secondary to matchup man to man against FSU. That will come down to how healthy Cisco and Melifonwu are, as their presence and leadership makes Syracuse’s defense so much more dynamic and difficult to attack. Cisco had some positive moments versus Pitt, but is clearly not quite 100%. Melifonwu saw some action, too, and is clearly healthy enough to take the field in some capacity. If both are able to go for all snaps, which the depth chart seems to indicate, it will go a long way in the Orange defense’s ability to commit more bodies to slowing Akers.

Do we see more option focused attack if Clayton Welch starts?

The ‘Noles are allowing an average of 165 rushing yards per game, which is a big part of why their defense is ranked 73rd in SP+. As the status of Tommy DeVito remains unclear for this Saturday, I’d love to see a more option based attack if Welch is under center. The redshirt senior was only 8-20 against Pitt, missing several short throws to the sidelines, but finding plenty of success with his legs. The Orange have two running backs in Moe Neal and Abdul Adams capable of breaking plays out of the backfield, and Dino’s roots are in a spread offense based around the run game. I’d love to see more option looks to punish FSU’s aggressiveness or at least slow them down enough to buy some time for the offensive line, because...

It sure seems like there could be offensive line shuffling.

“Right now everybody’s job is in jeopardy. We need to go back and watch the tape. It’s not fair to keep playing the same guys if the result doesn’t change.”

That was the message Dino Babers sent after the loss to Pitt last Friday night. The offensive line has been the poorest performing unit on the field for the Orange, and it would be logical to assume there are some new looks. Does Carlos Vettorello get a look over Ryan Alexander? Or Patrick Davis over Dakota Davis? All of this will lead to some struggles, but Florida State hasn’t been great at getting in the backfield this year. As Chris Carlson put it:

Will the defense continue it’s second half non-touchdown streak?

Thanks to Dan Lyons and Troy Nunes is an Absolute Podcast for this one: Syracuse hasn’t allowed a second half touchdown in back to back weeks. That’s something that they haven’t done twice in a season, let along twice in a row since Coach P left the program. Regardless of what narratives you may want to buy into, the team is not quitting late into games, at least not on the defensive side of the ball. The last two weeks, they’ve done all they can to give the offense a chance to get back into and win the game. Can this continue versus Florida State? If it does, it shows just how good this unit is, and how well Brian Ward and his staff have been at converting recruits into legitimate talents at key positions.