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Syracuse vs. NC State preview: Five things to watch for

If you’re watching, of course...

Syracuse v North Carolina State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange football team is back inside the Carrier Dome Stadium to play the final home game of the 2020 season with a noon ET kickoff (on ACC Network, of course) against the N.C. State Wolfpack. As you know, Syracuse is 1-8 on the year, while State is a surprising 6-3 so far.

What are we watching for here at TNIAAM? Our staff weighs in:

John: Syracuse’s run defense holding up

Interestingly, Syracuse’s run D hasn’t performed as badly as you’d think in recent weeks. Though they’re still allowing 4.58 yards per carry, just one of the last four opponents (Boston College with 4.06) have topped four yards per carry. And Louisville was actually at under three, even with a few big runs. The key for SU’s run defense is being able to hold up for a whole game — something they’ve yet to really be able to do, putting in either strong first or second halves, but not both. State’s rushing attack isn’t amazing on paper, but they do have two impressive backs in Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person, who’ve combined for over 1,100 yards this season. Key for the Orange here is stopping those players and forcing Bailey Hockman to try and beat them through the air (where he’s not overly efficient and is turnover-prone).

Christian: Who steps up to help SU’s quarterback in the passing game?

We don’t know who’s going to be Syracuse’s quarterback for NC State after JaCobian Morgan’s injury at the end of the Louisville game. However, whether it’s Morgan, Rex Culpepper, or Dillon Markiewicz, an Orange receiver needs to make himself available. When’s the last time that we’ve seen a Syracuse receiver have some sort of space on a completion downfield? It seems like every downfield completion for SU has an opponent draped all over the intended target. Now that could be a product of the limited playbook Syracuse has seemingly been running on offense all year, as there hasn’t been much variety in the routes run by the wideouts. But it just doesn’t seem like Syracuse has a play or a person that can get someone open for a fairly easy downfield completion. Is this easier said than done with an offensive line that has severely regressed? Yes. But Syracuse still has some veteran wideouts who should theoretically do better in getting open for their inexperienced quarterbacks.

Pittsburgh v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Kevin: A memorable moment

This is going to be the final home game for an unknown amount of Syracuse seniors so in a lost season I want to see something memorable. Last year’s home finale had the Trill Williams strip and unnecessary score in overtime so what can this year bring? How about a short yardage carry for Josh Black? What about Chris Elmore taking a QB sneak on a 3rd and short play or maybe a Nolan Cooney fake punt? Look this year hasn’t been fun but the Orange players deserve something for what they’ve given to play this season. We won’t have many good memories so let’s try and create one on Saturday.

Steve: Growth from the youth

I don’t want to get dire, but I will. With the way the injury sheet looks and where the offense is at present, any glimmer of hope is something to hold out for. Last week, it was Sean Tucker still putting up almost a century mark performance on the ground. This week, maybe it’s a young receiver like Damien Alford having a game. They’re due to have one of the your guys make a mark on the game. Maybe one of the young defensive players making something out of nothing, beyond the impressive youth we’ve been seeing, or some more growth from the young linebacking corps, with some run stopping from the Mike position? At this point, it’s a game of “find the silver lining,” which can make for an interesting game watch as well.

Andy: More turnovers on defense

The lone statistical bright spot has been the defense’s continued ability to force turnovers week to week. While the turnover margin suffers from an offense who turns the ball over far more than it should, the defense is tied for second in all of college football in forced turnovers, and top 10 in interceptions. The top 5 fumble recovery ranking is probably more luck based (even though you can watch Syracuse players opt for a strip tackle more than a wrap up tackle a bit too often), there’s a legitimate claim that Tony White’s scheme is causing consistent confusion and a secondary is primed to take advantage. If this becomes a hallmark of ‘Cuse under White, it will go a long way in seasons with a better offense and help recruit in the secondary.