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Syracuse football: what to watch for vs North Carolina

Can the Orange bounce back on the road?

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NCAA Football: North Carolina at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange (4-1, 0-1) head to Chapel Hill this weekend to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels (4-0, 1-0) with a chance to get back on the winning track. What are we watching for in Saturday’s game?

Kevin: Who steps up for the offense?

Outside of LeQuint Allen, Syracuse hasn’t had a consistent playmaker to take the pressure off of Garrett Shrader’s shoulders. Last week Dan Villari emerged as a contributor to the Syracuse offense before he got a knock. Will Villari be ready for an increased role this week? If not, can Umari Hatcher and Donovan Brown return to the success they found in the first two games of the season? The Orange are going to need to score some points if they want to head home with a win.

Mike: Passes between the hashes

Shrader’s strength has been going over the middle ever since he arrived in Syracuse, but that gameplan disappeared last week. I’m not convinced that one guy can replace O.G.’s consistency (maybe Isaiah Jones once he returns) but Coach Beck has to get creative with the personnel that are available. Perhaps Damien Alford in the slot? Allen running some V routes out of the backfield? Thunder Dan and David Clement in dual TE sets?

Steve: Does the secondary hold up?

By the look test and the stats test, the Syracuse defense looks great this season. They’re tenth in total defensive grades from PFF.com, with the secondary grading out fourth best in the country in coverage. Now I’m not sure if they’re that good, but we saw some good things against Clemson that may help prepare them for Drake Maye and the coming storm this week. Whether we can handle Maye and the UNC receivers will be a major deciding factor on if the team can walk away from Chapel Hill victorious.

Dom: Can Shrader return to his out-of-conference performance?

Shrader’s final stat line versus Clemson looked below the standards he was producing at — all due to a mix of the Tigers’ stellar defense, the Orange’s thinning receiving corps and an early first quarter hit which threw him off for the rest of the game. Fortunately, North Carolina’s defense (61st in total defense in the NCAA) sits way lower than that of Clemson (ninth-best total defense in the NCAA). Moving forward, getting as much out of Shrader still remains the lifeline to keeping the Orange in the seven- to nine-win range.

Max: Limit the mental mistakes

Last weekend against Clemson, the Syracuse defense committed four back-breaking penalties on third down to automatically move the sticks for the Tigers. In fact, the Orange average over eight penalties a game, which is one of the worst marks in the nation. Traveling down to Chapel Hill as even bigger underdogs, SU must be more disciplined if they want any chance of an upset on Saturday.

Christian: Reinforcements inbound

I can confidently say that UNC’s aerial attack will be better than Clemson’s. The bad news for Syracuse is that the secondary struggled to contain the Clemson receivers. What we saw Dino Babers and Rocky Long do is bring in some of the talented transfers that the program brought in this offseason. Myles Farmer, Jaeden Gould, and Jayden Bellamy all played significant minutes late in the game against Clemson. If the starting secondary falters early, how soon do Babers and Long decide to bring in the transfers? It may be the key to slowing down the explosive UNC offense in order to keep the game close.

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Now it’s your turn, what are you watching for on Saturday?