Live by the last-second field goal, die by the last-second field goal, as we’ve learned in recent weeks. Still, the Syracuse Orange football team is back in action for another game this weekend, as they host the top-25 Wake Forest Demon Deacons at the Dome. Wake’s undefeated and hasn’t really dealt with the same stresses SU has to-date. Still, with how weird the ACC is this year, anything could happen.
In advance of Saturday’s kickoff, here are some things to be paying close attention to...
Andy: Will the passing game go vertical?
It’s been pretty obvious that Garrett Shrader’s strength is not his arm. In fact, it’s almost comical how badly Shrader has performed on deep throws this season: He’s just 2/12 on throws more than 20 yards downfield this year, with 1 TD and 1 INT. Compare that to last season, when Tommy DeVito uncorked 8 passes over 20 yards in the season opener alone, and you can see why the Orange are rated as the 117th best passing offense by PFF, above just 4 other Power 5 programs. We saw that the lack of verticality allowed FSU to stack the box and exploit the Orange’s weakness; Any hope of defeating ACC teams hinges on the ability to take advantage of teams selling out to stop Sean Tucker.
Kevin: Turnover time
The Syracuse defense has been much improved in 2021 but they have yet to recreate the havoc they caused last year. The Orange have only created five turnovers on the season with Duce Chestnut having the only two interceptions. To pull off an upset over a ranked opponent Syracuse will need to not only generate a turnover but it would be great to convert it right into points. I’m not sure the Orange offense can keep pace with Wake Forest so generating points from defense and/or special teams would go a long way to heading into next week with a 4-2 record.
John: Don’t give Wake the opportunity to capitalize on mistakes
As we know, Syracuse has long been mistaken-prone (something predating Dino Babers’s time here) and this year’s no different as the Orange lose nearly 65 yards per game to penalties. That’s a problem against any opponent, but mistakes vs. Wake are particularly armful. The Deacs are among the 25 least-penalized teams in the country, are top-15 in tackles for loss (just like SU) and top-10 in turnover margin. They’re a disciplined and aggressive group. And while Syracuse can’t change that, they can at least make an effort to minimize the advantage that creates against teams that are heavily penalized, questionable up front or — and perhaps as a result of the first two — forced to take too many risks as the game goes on.
Christian: The secondary’s true test
For good reason, we’ve all been impressed with Tony White’s defense this year. Save for the tackling and screen issues against Florida State, the Syracuse defense has dominated its opponents this season. However, this unit faces it’s most unique and possibly important test to date. Arguably, Sam Hartman is the best passer that Syracuse will face so far this season. He will test the Syracuse secondary. We’ll know for sure if the Orange safeties and cornerbacks are for real. Or, if Tony White really trusts his zone defense, can Syracuse limit the soft spots that so many teams have exploited over the past two seasons? Wake Forest isn’t the biggest ground threat, so it’s time for the secondary to flex its muscles.