It’s finally here! After a 10-3 campaign that has uplifted the fans around the program, the Syracuse Orange football team will take the field Saturday at 6 p.m. ET to play the Liberty Flames and open their 2019 season. What should we look for in this one? We’ve got five things worth watching out for.
What does a commitment to the running game look like?
Dino said that he would love to have a 1,000-yard rusher this year. He’s yet to have one at ‘Cuse, and this year, either Moe Neal or Abdul Adams look like the right combination of talent and skill to pull it off. Neal is the listed starter, coming in with more experience. Adams scored twice in the Camping World Bowl, and has shed weight in the offseason to increase his speed. My point is that both players have the ability needed to pull off 1,000 yards. But what does a game plan based on running the ball through the running back instead of a run-comfortable quarterback (like Eric Dungey, obviously) look like? We’ll see for the first time.
Nickel or 4-3?
Brain Ward’s system is based out of a 4-3 in most iterations. However, like last year, the Orange seem to be saying a nickel package is their base, primarily due to linebacker play — and particularly, the inexperience there. We share this concern, and thus how the Orange decide to align most downs will show Ward and the staff’s confidence in the linebacking core. Mikel Jones seems like a key to moving more towards a 4-3, and Saturday could be a great chance for him (and a lot of the other younger players) to get meaningful snaps.
How good is the secondary?
We’ve talked a lot about Syracuse, but Liberty does have Antonio Gandy-Golden, an NFL prospect with some solid size (6’4”) who racked up 1,000 yards last year. Malik Willis won’t be playing for Liberty, but Stephen Calvert is a senior who can still sling it (he threw for over 3,000 yards and 21 scores last year). The Flames have plenty of injuries at receiver going into this one, so Calvert will be targeting Gandy-Golden early and often. Who lines up on him? How does the team deal with teams avoiding All-American Andre Cisco? This should be an interesting early test for Christopher Fredrick & Co.
How much has the offensive line gelled so far?
Outside of the linebackers, this has been the biggest question of the offseason. When the first depth chart was released, the only major surprises were along the line, with Carlos Vettorello slated to start at one of the tackle spots. Dino seemed to indicate there could be some rotating there, though, so things may not be settled just yet.
Liberty won’t prove the biggest of challenges up front, but it will be an important game in figuring out which combination works best protecting a new starting QB and re-establishing the run game. Since DeVito’s not the same run threat Dungey was, he’ll need a little extra time, at least initially.
Listen, we can talk about our content king all we want in the offseason. But this will be the first time that the former four-star recruit out of New Jersey takes the field as the undisputed starter at quarterback for Syracuse. DeVito has an arm. He’s seemingly got the chemistry with his offensive teammates already. But what does that mean once the game gets going and there’s no Eric Dungey to spell him if he struggles? This will only be the beginning of questions we have about Tommy, but it could go a long way in framing how we ask them going forward.