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Syracuse vs. Maryland preview: Five things to watch

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The game that low-key may be huge for ‘Cuse’s season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Syracuse v Notre Dame Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When you only play 12 games per season, every game has importance. For the Syracuse Orange, their game Saturday vs. the Maryland Terrapins may be the most important game of their 2019 season, for a multitude of reasons.

As John pointed out the other day, It would be the first (regular season) non-ACC Power 5 victory for the Orange in a long time. It could set the stage for the biggest football party the school has seen in the modern era. And most importantly, many scenarios that see the Orange registering back-to-back double-digit win seasons involve a victory over the Terps this Saturday.

Bottom line: this is a big game. And we’ve got five things to watch for that will tilt the matchup toward the Orange.

The (hopefully) better consistency of Tommy DeVito

Look, this is obvious. DeVito needs to be better not just this Saturday, but all season if the Orange want to repeat any bit of success from last season. Unfortunately, there isn’t much time for him to work out the kinks, as the next two weeks continue to up the difficulty sliders for the QB and his offense. We’ve said a bunch on the topic already, and the reality is that the first drop back of DeVito’s game will be watched with bated breath by the entire fan base.

Week one saw some overthrows as well as miscommunication with receivers for much of the contest. That’s not all on the QB, but the week will be spent making up for lost time and getting everyone on the same page so the passing game is a lot less rough around the edges.

Syracuse Front Four Pressure

Alton Robinson, Kendall Coleman, and ACC Player of the Week Josh Black wreaked havoc on Saturday against a clearly overmatched offensive line. Minus-4 rushing yards (sack-assisted) on its own is impressive, but adding in 8 sacks is just dominance. We talked a lot about a weakness at linebacker, but the front four is showing that they may be able to take over games — and without blitzing no less.

Maryland is an excellent test on how repeatable that is against the better competition on ‘Cuse’s schedule, though the Terps also replace three offensive linemen from last year’s group and allowed eight tackles for loss against Howard last week. Obviously the Bison were bringing the house as that one got out of hand. But it’s a reasonable sign that SU will be able to generate pressure here too with better athletes.

Two-back formation a consistent?

Because of how close the Flames played ‘Cuse last week, Dino was forced to break out a 2-back formation. Personally, I love this idea, especially as DeVito and his receiving corps continue to work out timing and routes. Abdul Adams and Moe Neal were the most productive players for the Orange, with Neal racking up 143 total yards with a score and Adams scoring the game’s first touchdown. If DeVito can’t get the ball downfield, both of these backs will need to be the source of offense for the Orange, and on the field together, they’ll force a defense into making decisions so DeVito has easier reads.

Offensive Line Cohesion

With Sam Heckel potentially out for this game, an already shaky unit trying to build consistency is forced to shuffle. Maryland will have a better pass rush and run defense than Liberty, so there needs to be some marked improvement compared to last week when Liberty was constantly pressuring DeVito — and we actually saw some improvement from the group in the second half already last week.

In Dino’s first couple of years, an inconsistent offensive line would usually raise their game, as they did against Clemson two years ago, so it’s not impossible for dramatic improvement in a short time span. More likely, if a certain combination of guys starts clicking (as the one with Ryan Alexander starting at one of the tackle spots did last week), expect that to be the unit to carry the Orange late into the game.

Turnovers

We talked a bunch in the offseason about turnovers at the rate ‘Cuse produced in 2018 aren’t a sustainable trend to bank on. As per usual, the Orange came out and made us look silly, forcing four turnovers, including a key forced fumble early to keep Liberty off the scoreboard. The Orange also committed three turnovers, and here’s the rub: In a game as close as this one should be, the offense can’t squander chances to go ahead the defense gives them. I refuse to say that the Orange will continue to be a national leader in takeaways, and I really don’t want to see them used to balance out the offense’s mistakes.