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Syracuse vs. Wake Forest preview: Five things to watch for

NCAA Football: Liberty at Syracuse Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange return home from Death Valley to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at the Formerly Known As Carrier Dome Stadium, in what becomes a much more intriguing game after last week. While ‘Cuse looked better versus Clemson, Wake Forest pulled itself out of the ACC basement with back to back wins over the Virginia Cavaliers & Virginia Tech Hokies. What will we be watching for in this one?

Andy: Can the Orange down 3 generate sufficient pressure?

Wake QB Sam Hartman has been excellent the last two games, grading out as a 90 versus Virginia according to PFF, but taking a step back versus Virginia Tech (67). Why the drop? Hartman continues to grade above 75 when not pressured, but drops significantly when facing pressure, and Virginia Tech was able to generate some kind of pressure with half of the time Hartman was dropping back. McKinley Williams has done a great job up the middle, which happens to be the weak spot on Wake’s pass protection. Williams and Josh Black have a chance to really showcase their skills this week and relieve the linebackers of pass rushing responsibilities if they can exploit this weakness.

John: Creating mistakes where there aren’t any

While the Orange offense hasn’t found much consistency this year, opportunities have been created by SU’s ball-hawking defense. That’s going to be a bit more difficult against a team like Wake Forest, which has only turned the ball over once all season (on a fumble). With Wake’s run-centric attack and QB Sam Hartman only throwing 23 times per game, Syracuse has to get creative if they want to turn Wake over — or score points. Short fields have made up for the shortcomings of the Orange offense at times. What happens when they may not have that benefit?

Christian: Was Syracuse’s run defense against Clemson a fluke performance?

The last thing I expected in the Clemson game is that the Tigers would only gain 7 more yards on the ground than the Orange. That was in large part due to a much improved run defense that limited Clemson rushers not named Travis Etienne to 91 yards on 21 carries, which is very good. Against UNC, Georgia Tech, Duke and Liberty we saw Syracuse struggle to contain multiple running backs, including rushers that were lower on the depth chart. Limiting Etienne to 93 yards on 16 carriers is a small victory in itself as well.

What remains to be seen is if Syracuse can replicate that run defense the rest of the season, and that starts against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have two running backs with over 380 yards of rushing this season. That might not seem like a lot, but running backs with worse stats have burned the Orange defense already this season. Was the solid run defense against Clemson a fluke, or will Wake Forest expose the gaps that plagued Syracuse in its first three games in the Dome?

Kevin: Slowing the destruction of “Godzilla”

Carlos Basham has been a problem for offensive lines and Dino Babers doesn’t want to watch the Wake monster wreck the game plan. If Syracuse wants to keep Basham from dominating this one they need to figure out a way to contain him. Will we see more misdirection plays like the reverse to Nykeim Johnson or will the Orange try to max protect on passing downs? The offense is going to have to try and limit Basham’s damage on Saturday afternoon.

Steve: Will Sean Tucker be healthy enough to maintain consistency with the run?

Kevin mentioned the real talented and obvious issue with the offense in Boogie Basham. The best way to make him less of a factor is to keep the ball on the ground and neutralize that pass rush. Unfortunately the Orange have their best option to alleviate that on the potential injury list. If Tucker is healthy enough to go, it should bode well for Syracuse to help balance the attack. His presence on the ground should keep Basham from being able to pin his ears back and terrorize Culpepper all day. If not, Cooper Lutz and Markenzie Pierre will be the ones handling the lion’s share of the carries. We’ll see if they’re up to the task.