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Syracuse football: can the Orange end its losing streak versus first round ACC QBs?

History is not on the Orange’s side, but you never know, right?

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Following a 31-14 home loss to the Clemson Tigers, the Syracuse Orange football team will look to bounce back on the road this weekend against the #14 North Carolina Tar Heels.

The matchup versus UNC sits in the middle of a tough, three-game stretch that already included Clemson followed by back-to-back road games against the Tar Heels and the #5 Florida State Seminoles. Coach Dino Babers and company will need to be on their A-game to stay afloat in Chapel Hill — yet, it’s also clear the numbers don’t look to be on the Orange’s side against UNC star quarterback Drake Maye and the Tar Heels’ offense.

Nate Mink of syracuse.com brought up an excellent note this week:

Maye projects to be drafted third overall and the second quarterback to be taken off the board in the upcoming draft, according to the latest mock draft from CBS Sports.

The numbers for Maye are stellar — nearly 5,600 passing yards, a 4-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and a career 68% completion percentage across two seasons and change with UNC — and have powered the Tar Heels to the 23rd-best total offense in the NCAA.

On paper, it’s an uphill climb and then some for Syracuse, especially on the road. The numbers from the past decade point to that being abundantly clear.

ACC First Round Quarterbacks versus the Orange

QB (stats) Date of Game Final score (W/L)
QB (stats) Date of Game Final score (W/L)
Jameis Winston Nov. 2013 19/21, 277 passing yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Jameis Winston Oct. 2014 30/36, 317 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
Deshaun Watson Nov. 2015 35/48, 368 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Lamar Jackson Sept. 2016 20/39, 411 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Deshaun Watson* Nov. 2016 13/16, 169 passing yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Lamar Jackson Nov. 2017 14/26, 270 passing yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Trevor Lawrence* Sept. 2018 10/15, 93 passing yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Kenny Pickett Oct. 2018 11/20, 137 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Trevor Lawrence Sept. 2019 22/39, 395 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
Kenny Pickett Oct. 2019 18/33, 232 passing yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Kenny Pickett Sept. 2020 25/36, 215 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Trevor Lawrence Oct. 2020 27/43, 289 passing yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Kenny Pickett Nov. 2021 28/38, 209 passing yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
All stats are from ESPN. Note: Watson in 2016 and Lawrence in 2018 left their respective games early due to injury.

There’s a lot to unpack from the data. The biggest takeaways are:

  1. Syracuse was simply outmatched across the board once you look at the point totals for all 13 games against first round ACC QBs. The Orange’s opponents averaged nearly 42 points per game compared to just under 17 points per game for Syracuse — a 25-point differential.
  2. Syracuse’s defense allowed its opponents to score 35 points or more 10 times out of 13 games, including seven games in which opponents scored 41 points or more.
  3. The Orange ended up with more games below 21 points (seven) than games with 21 points or more (six). An outlier 37-point performance by the offense versus Pitt in 2018 marks the only time Syracuse scored 30 points or more in these 13 games.
  4. Including shortened games for Watson in 2016 and Lawrence in 2018, the average performance across all 13 games for the first round ACC quarterbacks equated to the following: 21/32 (66%), 260 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and less than one interception per game.
  5. The Orange typically faced the first round ACC quarterbacks when their programs ranked pretty highly during those single-season matchups. In nine of these 13 games, Syracuse’s opponent ended up in the final AP top-25 poll; seven were in the top-five (the exceptions include 2017 Louisville and Pittsburgh in 2018, 2019 and 2020). The 13 single-season teams Syracuse played against those first round QBs averaged 11 wins per year.

So yes, the recent history suggests Syracuse sits in an uncomfortable spot. With that said, keep in mind a few things heading into this weekend versus UNC.

The common thread with these 13 games was the lack of offensive firepower for Syracuse, but this year’s Orange do still boast one of the best offenses to date. The Orange rank 25th in total yards per game (462.4), just one spot behind UNC (464).

The Tar Heels’ defense isn’t on the same level as Clemson’s title teams, so If Syracuse’s offense can hold strong and Shrader can reach a performance similar to the first four games of this season, this will be a closer game than what history shows.

Then again, as Mark Twain once said: “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.”