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Syracuse football: players are dialed in for clash with NC State

“And... Here. We. Go!”

Wagner v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange are getting ready to welcome a crowd of over 45,000 strong to the Dome on Saturday. With bowl eligibility and a Top 20 ranking on the line, here’s how six SU stars are feeling ahead of their game against the NC State Wolfpack:

Mikel Jones

  • Said this weekend’s game is one of the biggest of his career, second only to playing against IMG in his senior year of high school.
  • Message to fans: “Be loud. Just know that we’re coming to handle business.”
  • It’s been a long time since the program was in this position. Mikel pointed out how he wasn’t even born the last time SU and another Top 20 team faced one another.
  • The Pack’s biggest strength is veterans who are used to winning with each other.
  • Injuries on the defensive line are difficult, but Jones likes coaching the younger guys and getting them prepared to step in.
  • “We don’t really pay attention (to predictions)... we still feel like we’re the underdogs.”

Caleb Okechukwu

  • Team expected to be doing well to this point and are “blessed” to be in this situation.
  • “The approach doesn’t change” against backup NC State QB Jack Chambers. Noted he’s still a scholarship player.
  • The Wolfpack O-Line is “verry gritty” and should be one of the most physical matchups this year.
  • Fans play a great role in helping the defense. “The more people that come out, it’s only better for us.”
  • The Mob Podcast has really helped team chemistry and how players interact off the field. Some arguments “all in good fun” about who’s going to be the hero next time out.
  • After Don McPherson recently hopped on the pod, Caleb is hoping that more alumni reach out. Mentioned Donovan McNabb and Chandler Jones, but would welcome anybody.

Garrett Shrader

  • The offense has “built its identity” and feels confident that they can continue their production moving forward.
  • The opposing front seven is the “heart and soul” of their defense.
  • When asked about importance of Top 20 matchup: “I don’t even know if I was a thought” last time this kind of game was played in Syracuse.
  • Relying on experience against other top teams, live eventual National Champion LSU while he was still with Mississippi State, to help this week.
  • Goal is to score a TD on the opening drive; no ideal play/time limit.
  • Everyone is “a little banged” up at this point in the season but are ready to go regardless.
Wagner v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Sean Tucker

  • Appreciated the extra time for himself and others to heal before this matchup.
  • Team practiced normally during the bye week.
  • Dome crowd noise has helped, especially with third down stops on defense. It will be “elevated” with more people in attendance this week.
  • NC State defense is aggressive and they “fly to the ball.”
  • Wes Hoeh is improving at FB.
  • “There’s always going to be doubters.”
Wagner v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Dakota Davis

  • “We have a great group of leaders, and everyone just has one like-minded goal, and that’s to get to a bowl game, make the best out of the season that we can. I think that’s definitely a lot of carryover from that 2018 team, with a good group of old guys who have been through it, who are keeping up and keeping everyone on top.”
  • Motivation is similar for this year’s veterans; they’re all leaders and inspirational.
  • Garrett Shrader compared to Eric Dungey: “Both definitely lead by action. Both are very big personalities on the field and... just hard-nosed players.”
  • Group is now being reminded of how they fared against this team last year. “Really just coming to light this week... we want to do better.”
  • Focused on giving Tucker room to run after he broke away for some long gains in the last game.
  • O-Line just need to do their jobs and execute the plays that are called.

Matthew Bergeron

  • Recovered physically during bye but was still preparing mentally.
  • Visiting defense is “one of the best in the conference right now”
  • This is the biggest game of Bergeron’s career; said only Clemson home game in 2019 can compare excitement-wise, but reminded us that he didn’t play in that one.
  • Still working on cutting down penalties in practice, specifically by pumping in a lot of noise. Want to be prepared for hostile environment in Clemson next week.
  • Getting used to opponents zeroing in on the run.
  • Everyone is putting aside “pride and ego” and believing that, as a team, they can compete for the ACC Championship.