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Syracuse football preview vs. NC State: 5 things to watch

A Thursday Night slugfest in Raleigh could go a long way to helping ‘Cuse’s 2019 outlook.

Holy Cross v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

When the Syracuse Orange take on the N.C. State Wolfpack on Thursday night, Dino Babers and his team are looking at a tightly contested ACC game that both sides are looking to use as a spring board into the rest of the conference slate. Neither team has looked particularly inspiring to date, but the rest of the ACC hasn’t either, and both of these squads have the coaching and talent to take advantage this general downturn in conference quality. How can Syracuse come back with a win? We’ve got 5 things to watch.

Syracuse Needs to Pressure Bailey Hockman.

Hockman started the year as the third string option for NC State, which says a lot about the QB play they’ve received to date. Regardless, Doreen is clearly confident enough in Hockman to publicly let everyone know he’ll be under center, instead of playing some “OR” depth chart games. Hockman’s got one of the better ACC offensive lines in front of him, but senior tackle Justin Witt will miss Thursday’s game. This forces true freshman Ikem Ekwonu into the lineup on the left side, and the Orange should attack him all night long to keep Hockman as uncomfortable as possible.

Will a re-shuffled O-Line hold?

Dave Doeren is known for his defense, and even though there may not be a top 3 NFL pick on his defense this year, it’s still a top 30 SP+ unit, racking up 18 sacks on the season. Defensive tackle Larrell Murchinson has 5 of them, and will feast on ‘Cuse if the line plays like it did versus Maryland and Clemson. Babers is going to shuffle the line and it’s probably for the best. The unit needs to try something, anything to get on track.

How does ‘Cuse combat pressure?

Read that paragraph above? The Wolfpack isn’t a team you can stop pressure with if you don’t have a top o-line. But there are other ways of combating pressure, and Dino’s tempo offense is usually a great way to do so. I’d be shocked if we didn’t see more two back sets for more check down or screen options, and maybe Sean Riley gets back into a groove if the Orange look to receivers on short routes.

Syracuse v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Is it time for the Mikel Jones Show?

The Syracuse linebackers have been something of a grab bag this season, at times a liability, but more recently, showing some smaller signs of improvement. Part of that improvement has been Jones stepping in and showing he belongs among the starters. Whoever Brian Ward rolls out on that first series will say a lot, and if it’s Jones, I’d expect to see the defense continue to improve.

How does this team handle (what will probably) be their first 4th quarter battle?

This is definitely a quasi-hot take, but look at the Orange’s contests so far: while the Liberty and Western Michigan contests were not fully decided until the 4th, it wasn’t as if the Orange were involved in nail biters. By all measures, this game will be close, between two teams who are evenly matched and inconsistent. Could this game be decided by the 4th? Maybe. But more than likely, the Orange and Pack will be involved in a game coming down to the last possession. This is the first of what could be many toss-ups down the stretch, and how the Orange respond on Thursday will be important in how they develop this season.