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Syracuse vs. Western Michigan football preview: Five things to watch

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Is this the game where the Orange offense finally breaks out?

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

It’s weird to write, but when the Syracuse Orange take on the Western Michigan Broncos on Saturday, it really feels like a gut check game the team hasn’t faced under Dino Babers. Expectations coming into the season have quickly changed to criticisms, and the Broncos are less than a touchdown underdogs. Not to disrespect Tim Lester’s crew, but many (myself included) once thought this was a guaranteed win. Now? Far from it. What’s going to determine if ‘Cuse starts to right the ship?

Which wideout steps up?

The Orange wide receivers haven’t had a ton to work with, as the offensive line hasn’t provided a ton of time for Tommy DeVito to throw. (More on them later.) Regardless, we saw vs Maryland the wide outs struggle to keep routes alive on scrambles, and struggle to hold on to balls the last two weeks. DeVito hasn’t found someone who will step up and make any catch when the offense is struggling. DeVito and Trishton Jackson were hyped in the preseason, but I think Taj Harris may be a more legitimate option, but that drop early last week looms large.

Can the O-line show more cohesion?

We’ve dug into how the O-Line didn’t have a ton of success versus Clemson. DeVito didn’t have time to make big plays, or many plays for that matter. Like it or not, the book on ‘Cuse is out; Send pressure any way you want, the offensive line won’t be cohesive enough to stop it consistently. If Syracuse is going to have any success this year, that needs to change, starting this week. No word on if Sam Heckel will return from injury, but that can’t be the only fix at this point.

Clemson v Syracuse Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

What happens after the next DeVito mistake?

There have been a lot of justifiable questions after back to back (to back?) weeks with some rough Tommy DeVito interceptions. Some less rational observers want the QB benched, but for what purpose? It’s not like the New Jersey kid is constantly throwing into pressure, it’s just that one play a game there’s a moment where we all collectively wonder what he saw. However, if this happens for a third week, and becomes a pattern, Dino has to sit his quarterback down and balance the reassurance and critiquing necessary to make an impact with this player.

Does the front four swagger return?

Clemson’s offensive line is fantastic, so expecting the defensive front to do what they did versus Liberty is silly. However, their game versus Maryland wasn’t very good and there’s no doubt Brian Ward’s group knows that to be successful, there needs to be better consistent pressure from the line. Western Michigan has only given up four sacks this year, so their line has shown they can be successful. This seems like a perfect bounce back and challenge for the best defensive unit on the Orange.

What happens if WMU comes out swinging?

Here’s perhaps the biggest key to the game in my humble opinion; Most people assume ‘Cuse will win in some fashion and I’m sure in many ways, the staff and players echo this sentiment. So what happens when the team who rushed for 7 scores last week breaks an early run to go up 7-0 or 7-3? What happens if Western is able to go up two scores? I don’t think this team is mentally weak, but I do think there is a gaping leadership void left by Eric Dungey. Who steps up and shows the fire on the field to rally the Orange? There’s a ton of coin flips left on the schedule. The Orange can’t afford to be a team that drops after the first big punch.