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Syracuse football 2019 opponent preview: Holy Cross Crusaders

This used to be a pretty regular series before the FBS/FCS split.

NCAA Football: Holy Cross at Boston College Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s preview of the Syracuse Orange’s week four opponent, Western Michigan, features the team’s most #MethodCat foe on the schedule. WMU returns quite a bit from last year’s team, for those that may be concerned about that sort of thing.

Perhaps you’re not as excited about these, since it’s only May. But since Syracuse won 10 games last year, and I run this place, we’re talking about them anyway. The Orange have plenty of challenges ahead — some of those greater than others. Today, we take a look at SU’s week five matchup:

Holy Cross Crusaders

School: College of the Holy Cross

Mascot: Crusaders

#BRAND Slogan(s): #WeWill

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #BillSimmonsThinksWeShouldMoveToD3 OR “Undefeated vs. Syracuse since 1974”

Recommended Blog: Cross Sports

Conference: Patriot League

Coach: Bob Chesney, second year. Chesney played for Dickinson College (DIII), then joined the Norwich (DIII) staff shortly after, as an assistant in 2000. He became the defensive coordinator at Delaware Valley in 2002, took over special teams at King’s College in 2003 and then became a defensive assistant at Johns Hopkins from 2005-09. He won a conference title in his third season at Salve Regina (DIII) in his first head coaching stint, then moved onto Assumption (DII), where he was in charge from 2013-17. His 44-16 record (with three playoff berths) earned him the Holy Cross job last season. Chesney won five games in his first season — a one-game improvement from 2017.

2018 Record: (5-6) (4-2)

Recapping Last Season:

The Crusaders got off to a pretty slow start last year, going 1-6 — though they also beat Yale in week three. Holy Cross turned the season around at the end of October though, beating Lehigh, Lafayette, Fordham and Georgetown (hey, good job!) to wind up with a 5-6 record that was good for second in the Patriot League.

Despite the strong finish, Holy Cross was still barely a top-100 offense in the FCS, at just 333.5 yards per game and scored 24.4 points per game (87th overall). Geoff Wade led the Crusaders in passing with 1,844 yards and 16 touchdowns after taking over the starting gig from Emmett Clifford following his early season struggles. They also didn’t move the ball all that well on the ground, averaging just 3.43 yards per game. Domenic Cozier led the way with 679 yards.

For Holy Cross, the more dominant side of the ball was the defense. The Crusaders averaged 26 points per game (43rd in the FCS) and allowed 369 yards per game (46th). Senior linebacker Ryan Brady led the team with 121 tackles, which was one of the top figures in the country, while defensive lineman Teddy Capsis led the team with six sacks. The team registered 23 sacks on the year — just outside the top-50 at the FCS level. Perhaps most relevant to Syracuse, they were a top-50 group against the pass, and could probably put up a better fight there than UConn did last year.

2019 Season Outlook:

Considering the defense was a strength last year, it’s probably not great to lose half of your top eight tacklers, including both Brady and Capsis, who were two of the most important pieces of that group last year (and accounted for 30 of the team’s 81 tackles for loss). A cursory look at the roster shows the team probably leans a little less heavily on the linebacker position this year and a whole lot more on the secondary. At least in position name, the Crusaders will carry no less than 20 defensive backs into 2019, including last year’s interceptions leader Chris Riley.

Unfortunately for Holy Cross, Wade’s not under center anymore, so they may have to hope Clifford can get past last year’s early season struggles. If not him, then perhaps freshman passer Chris Butash from Tampa, who seemed to put up big numbers as a high school senior (5,002 yards and 45 TDs). Cozier returns to head up the run game yet again, along with second-leading rusher Miles Alexander (431 yards last year). The Crusaders’ top three receivers from last year are all gone, so they’ll be starting from scratch there a bit. Holy Cross’s O-line has a good bit of experience, at least, to maybe help mitigate some of these losses.

This season’s schedule should prove even more difficult for Holy Cross, with a tough September of Navy, New Hampshire, Yale and Syracuse that should make for some early growing pains. Five of the first six games are on the road, but if things aren’t completely derailed early, there’s some potential to rectify things in the heart of the Patriot League slate to end the year.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 28

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 99 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

It’s appropriate that 60 years after the 1959 season (which included a 42-6 Syraucse win over Holy Cross), the Crusaders head back to Central New York for another go-around. But there’s not a ton to be optimistic about for Holy Cross when it comes to generating an upset. SU will hold large advantages on both sides of the ball, and the Orange should have the starters out at halftime here, providing an extra bit of rest with the bye week coming up to start off October.