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Syracuse football vs. Ohio preview: Five things to watch

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We’re watching either way. But what are we watching specifically?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

We’re mere days away from the Syracuse Orange’s season-opening matchup vs. the Ohio Bobcats. And since it’s been awhile since we’ve seen SU play football, we’ve been asking a lot of questions this week. But now we need to know: What exactly are we watching out for in this game?

So in advance of Saturday night’s game against Ohio, here’s what TNIAAM’s football wing is keeping an eye on:

Kevin: Handling adversity

It’s the opening game so I don’t expect it to go smoothly but I’m watching how Syracuse responds to an early 3 and out or if they fall behind? Will the team stay relaxed and composed or will the mistakes compound? Last year the Orange found themselves in games where one play seemed to set the team into a spiral. We all know the pressure everyone is facing this season so it’s going to be important for the players and coaches to limit that self-doubt.

John: Does Syracuse play-calling look fundamentally different?

As Steve noted earlier today, there are some key changes we’d like to see from Syracuse play-calling. While I wouldn’t give Sterlin Gilbert the excuse of COVID for failing to install a full offense last year, he could quickly prove detractors wrong by flipping the script this year. No, I’m not expecting SU to suddenly look like the 2018 offense again. But a better understanding of personnel and how to best utilize them to extend drives and make big plays at least an option for the Orange are bare minimum standards here.

Andy: How early is Duce Chestnut targeted?

Garrett Williams is the “big name” on Syracuse’s defensive side of the ball, and it stands to reason that even though Ohio will be trying to beat the Orange on the ground, if they want to attack down the field, they’re better off going after a true freshman coming in after a COVID disrupted high school season than Williams. Ohio won’t be the only team with this idea, but we’ll have a pretty good idea how high the ceiling is for the defense based on Chestnut’s ability to match Williams’ shutdown ability on the outside wide receivers.

Christian: Containing De’Montre Tuggle

As much as we all loved Tony White’s defense last year, one of its major weakness was stopping the run. The task doesn’t get easier for Syracuse on Saturday with Ohio running back De’Montre Tuggle vying for a First-Team All-MAC campaign. He’s averaged over six yards a carry in each season he’s been with the Bobcats. If the Orange can’t contain him, the defensive depth and stamina will be tested early, which is something Babers and White don’t want to do. Fatigue destroyed the defense last year, and while the short SU offensive drives play a factor, so does the defense getting punished for not containing the run. An improved run defense could turn the unit from a good one to an elite squad in the ACC.

Steve: Does the run game get off the ground?

Last season we had some good numbers on the ground, but I don’t think anyone would say we had a successful run game, especially heading down to our seventh string running back, who turned out to be a gem. With a stable of returners Sean Tucker and Cooper Lutz, and now including the re-additions of Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard, the talent is high. With the new offensive line coach, Mike Schmidt from San Diego State, a focus will be more on the ground game which should open up the rest of the offense for Gilbert and Babers to utilize. An improved run game will keep the offense moving and the defense off the field, which can only mean good things for the Orange.