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Syracuse football vs Duke preview: Four things to watch for

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Other than Boeheim-Coach K references

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Duke James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

For the second year in a row the Syracuse Orange will face the Duke Blue Devils. Last season the Orange used a strong running game and an opportunistic defense to score a decisive road victory. Now off the by week, Syracuse looks to get back to .500 while keeping Duke winless on the season.

Here are the four things we’re watching for on Saturday (You’ll get your fifth back when the boss returns):

Christian: Get more first downs than Duke

I mentioned this in TNIAAP a couple of weeks ago, but take a look at the offensive touchdowns that Syracuse scored against Georgia Tech. Aside from Sean Tucker’s second touchdown, every Orange offensive score came from outside the red zone on big plays. That isn’t a healthy recipe for success, even if it worked against the Yellow Jackets. Syracuse is averaging 13 first downs a game, which is vastly less than the conference median of 23.3.

A Dino Babers offense is great at using speed to tire out opposing defenses. By picking up more first downs, Syracuse can develop its offense with more speed and tempo and decrease its reliance on big plays. That will also force opponents to stay on the field longer, which will help the Orange speed gain a foothold on a game. With a Duke defense that is ranked towards the bottom of most defensive metrics, this should be a good opportunity for Syracuse to work on getting first downs to establish the tempo they want to run the offense at.

Kevin: Win on first downs.

The Orange need to stay out of second-and-long situations because Duke has been effective rushing the passer this season. Both Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph II are graded in the top 20 pass rushers in the ACC this season so Syracuse would be wise to limit their opportunities to get after Tommy DeVito. Whether it’s the running of Sean Tucker or spreading the ball around to the receivers, Syracuse needs to find ways to gain yards on first down.

On defense, Syracuse wants to force Chase Brice into obvious passing downs. Turnovers have killed Duke this season and the 2020 Syracuse defense has demonstrated the ability to take advantage of poor decisions by opposing quarterbacks.

NCAA Football: Duke at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Steve: Get the ball out of DeVito’s hands

I talked about it a bit on TNIAAL, but the ability of Tommy DeVito to quickly find his reads will be paramount to the success of the Orange on Saturday. A combination of Duke having a solid edge rush, with DeVito holding the ball in the pocket will lead to a good number of hurries if the gameplan isn’t predicated on him getting the ball in his playmakers’ hands early. Duke’s secondary isn’t one of the stronger that Syracuse will face, so this should allow for a little more decisive look from DeVito to compensate for the pass rush coming. While Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph are both impressive, they were held in check a bit against Virginia Tech, so maybe they are mortal after leading the NCAA in hurries through the first three weeks.

Andy: What does No Andre Cisco look like vs a team with film

Syracuse clearly did not need Cisco vs Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets also we’re caught off guard by not seeing #7 in the rover position. Duke and former Cuse killer and country music star Chase Brice will not be caught surprised should the reports of the injury’s severity be true. Rob Hannah and Ja’had Carter both had good moments in the last Orange victory, but they’re both young and a more experienced QB and coaching staff may be able to take advantage of this. Cisco is probably the best defensive talent at Cuse since Chandler Jones, and losing him his a big blow. However, Tony White has excelled early in his tenure with the challenge of transitioning a defense to the 3-3-5; Let’s see how he does adapting it without his best player.