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Syracuse football vs Florida State preview: Five things to watch

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Here’s what we’re paying attention to…

NCAA Football: Albany at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football team is 3-1 on the season following a walk-off field goal from Gerry McNamara Andre Szmyt. Now they head down to face the winless Florida State Seminoles to open up ACC play. Can the Orange win their first game in Tallahassee? Here’s what we’re looking for this Saturday afternoon....

Kevin: A tale of two halves

The Orange haven’t put together a complete offensive game against FBS competition. They are going to need a solid 60 minutes to earn an ACC road win so how will Dino Babers and Sterlin Gilbert plan for this one? I’m curious to see what adjustments are made to get more out of the passing game and keep the Seminoles from keying on Sean Tucker.

John: Can Florida State keep Syracuse out of the backfield?

We talk about offensive line issues a lot around here given the Orange’s problems up front in recent years, but you could make the case that Florida State’s had it just as bad and for longer. Things are no better this season, really. FSU’s allowed 33 tackles for loss on the year (118th in the country) and 15 of those have been sacks. As you probably know, Syracuse has been pretty adept at getting into the backfield, recording 39 tackles for loss — the fourth-best figure in the FBS. If both trends continue, it’s going to be a very difficult day for the Seminoles’ offense.

Christian: Have Tommy DeVito ready

What’s one of the reasons Florida State is 0-4? As Steve pointed out on TNIAAL, the Seminoles secondary is average at best. Per Pro Football Focus, FSU hasn’t graded over a 70 in coverage grades this season. This needs to be a point of emphasis that the Syracuse coaching staff attacks. The Seminoles are usually good against the run, so you’d expect them to attack Sean Tucker like Rutgers did. As John said above, the coaches need to get more out of the passing game. We know Garrett Shrader is going to start, but a quick decision needs to be made. If he can’t connect on passes over multiple drives, Tommy DeVito needs to come into the game.

Andy: Will someone other than Taj Harris help the passing game?

Look, the passing game is bad, but it’s not because of the Orange’s #1 receiver; Taj has the most targets of anyone on the team (22), the most receptions (15) and has been mostly used in the slot, lining up in that position 89% of the time. Florida State is likely use a combination of Jammie Robinson and Kevin Knowles III to cover Taj, and neither are slouches. Robinson is giving up just a 54% reception rate, and Knowles is even better at 33%. With Taj’s known ability, FSU is going to eliminate him as a primary target for whichever quarterback is taking snaps. If the Orange can’t lean on Tucker to dominate the offense like he has so far, someone other than Taj is going to need to demand attention to free up the Orange’s favorite receiving weapon.

Steve: Can Syracuse’s secondary capitalize on FSU’s offensive line struggles?

While John pointed out above that the front six need to get pressure on McKenzie Milton, almost as imperative is for a young secondary to come to play. If the defensive front is forcing bad plays, the secondary needs to be able to capitalize if the Orange want to win. Whether that means picks, lock down coverage or some other combination, they need to be harrowing. I could see Tony White dialing up the pressure from the Rover slot and really forcing the play, but ideally he won’t need to and the young, but experienced secondary can have a field day against the Seminoles. If they can’t and FSU’s not-great pass offense can be an outlet for them against the pressure, it won’t bode well for the Orange.