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Syracuse football vs. Virginia Tech preview: Five things to watch

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A lot riding on this one... for both teams.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Wake Forest at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, it’s been three straight (three-point!) losses for the Syracuse Orange football team, and that’s not ideal — especially with a tougher road matchup against the Virginia Tech Hokies coming this Saturday. Virginia Tech has its own challenges too, however, as the offense has sputtered and the team’s lost two in a row as well (including a drubbing vs. Pitt last Saturday).

So what should we be keeping an eye on as both teams look to right the ship this weekend?

John: Can Virginia Tech stop the run?

The Orange are a top-15 rushing offense in the country this year, averaging nearly 232 yards per game. And even against a very good defense like Clemson’s last week — which largely shut down Garrett Shrader on the ground — Sean Tucker still managed 157 yards on just 22 carries. Tech’s allowing 4.32 yards per carry and nearly 157 yards per game (81st in the country), which is probably not going to cut it against Syracuse... unless they can effectively stack the box and the Tigers did for a stretch and force Shrader to try and beat them with his arm. The Hokies are top-30 against the pass this year by yards allowed per game.

Steve: Will Syracuse be able to avoid having to test Virginia Tech’s secondary?

It’s no secret that Syracuse hasn’t been throwing the ball all that great recently. A 17 of 37 performance last week against Clemson really isn’t helping Shrader’s cause as a throwing quarterback. That said, it’s also not a secret that Virginia Tech has one of the best secondaries in the conference. Nickel Chammari Conner and cornerback Jermaine Waller both made mid-season All-ACC honors per ESPN and the unit itself is looking solid on the year. They’ve given up the fewest passing yards in the conference on the year, though their rush defense is middle of the pack in the conference. If the Orange are leaving Blacksburg with a win, they will need to do it on the ground and it’s pretty well known that they have the personnel to do that.

Kevin: Can the Orange defense flip the field?

The Syracuse defense is facing a Virginia Tech offense which is last in the ACC in yards per game and 2nd to last in points per game. While they aren’t moving the ball well the Hokies are taking care of it with only six turnovers on the season. Can the Orange force them into situations where they can capitalize on a turnover to create a short field, or even points, To turn around this losing streak it would help if the defense can cause some chaos and make Virginia Tech even more uncomfortable than normal.

Andy: Will these coaches try not to lose, or win the game?

It’s been no secret that no one is happy with the overall coaching performance of Dino Babers over this three game stretch of 3 point losses, and things aren’t much better in the other sideline. Justin Fuente’s seat is probably the hottest in the ACC, and losing at home to the perennial conference basement dwellers would all but punch his ticket out of town. The term must win is thrown around too much, but this is a must win game for Fuente to keep his job, and Babers to potentially salvage a bowl this season. I’d like to see Syracuse’s decision making reflect that urgency, especially on the road against a staff who is in a much more dire situation.

Christian: No excuses now

When Tommy DeVito was still on the team, there was pressure behind Garrett Shrader to perform. Always lingering behind him was a quarterback that had been with the Orange for the better part of four years. Now that pressure is gone with DeVito into the transfer portal. Shrader no longer has to play with that pressure and always look over his shoulder. He’s got free reign to let loose and let the ball fly or pound the rock. Does this mean we’ll see improved quarterback play immediately? Maybe not, but this is Shrader’s team fully now.