How to Watch: Kickoff at 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
Spread: Louisville -13 (Bovada)
Last Time: It was a historic performance for the entire Louisville offense, as #13 Louisville roared to a 62-28 win over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. The Cards scored touchdowns on three of their first five offensive plays, and set a school-record with 845 total yards of offense. Lamar Jackson led the way with an ACC-record 610 total yards (411 passing, 199 rushing), including the highlight-reel hurdling touchdown that arguably gave him his first of many Heisman moments in 2016.
Louisville leads the all-time series 9-6.
Meet the Syracuse Orange
Year two has gone better for Dino Babers at Syracuse, but the Orange must win out to secure bowl eligibility. The Orange did pull off a colossal upset of Clemson this year, and haven’t lost by more than nine points to other ranked teams like LSU, NC State and Miami. However, those three losses are also compounded by a 64-43 loss to Wake Forest last week, and a head-scratching loss to Middle Tennessee State earlier in the season.
Syracuse enters the game at 4-6, and last in the ACC Atlantic Division.
Players to Watch
- WR Steve Ishmael
Last season, Syracuse had Amba Etta-Tawo who was targeted often and plenty in their offense. Etta-Tawo finished with 94 receptions for 1,482 yards and 14 touchdowns.
This year, Steve Ishmael is the go-to guy on offense for the Orange. Ishmael is a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist with 92 catches for 1,131 yards and six touchdowns. Syracuse is a very aggressive team that likes to take their chances down the field, and trusts their receivers to win one-on-one matchups against opposing defensive backs. Ishmael has the body control and size (6’2″, 209 lbs.) to win against Louisville’s smaller cornerbacks, and he’ll be targeted plenty in tomorrow’s game.
- WR Ervin Phillips
Phillips is another receiver that will get a bulk of the targets in Syracuse’s offense. He enters tomorrow’s game with 79 catches for 826 yards, including a 17-catch performance against NC State in late September. Their next leading receiver (Devin Butler) only has 27 catches, so I’d expect Ishmael & Phillips to dominate the number of targets once again.
As expected in their Air Raid offense, Phillips can go down the field to make plays. However, he can also attack defenses on underneath routes, and is a popular target for Syracuse on checkdowns and screens. This will put pressure on Louisville’s linebacker corps in pass coverage, if Syracuse chooses to have short routes most of the game.
- LB Zaire Franklin / Parris Bennett
Admittedly, Syracuse doesn’t have great stats in “havoc” plays. They only have four interceptions this season (tied for 118th in FBS), have a -6 turnover margin (102nd) and 14 sacks.
What they do have, though, is a pair of linebackers with the athletic speed to slow down the running ability of Lamar Jackson. Both are seniors that, despite their size, have the ability to diagnose runs and stuff them. They lead the team in tackles, and Bennett leads all Orangemen in tackles for loss (8.5). Forcing Louisville to be one-dimensional would go a long way towards closing the gap and beating the Cardinals on Senior Day.
Keys to the Game
- Syracuse QB Situation
Heading into the game, the status of Syracuse QB Eric Dungey will be a focal point. Babers hasn’t tipped his hand as to whether or not Dungey or backup Zack Mahoney will get the start. If Dungey is able to play, it would be a huge asset for the Orange offense. Not only can he throw the ball downfield the way that Babers wants him to, but he can also scramble and make plays with his feet. Louisville has had trouble containing guys that can create plays with their feet (ex: Wake Forest’s John Wolford), and Dungey could create havoc in that aspect.
With Mahoney, the threat of him running might go away. But it doesn’t take away the threat of Syracuse throwing downfield, and Louisville should prepare for that. Mahoney does have experience as a starter for the Orange, which alleviates some concerns heading into the game.
- Louisville DL v. Syracuse O-Line
Last week, Louisville’s defense returned from their bye week with their best performance of the season. This was mainly due to the pressure they were able to create, as the Cardinals piled up four sacks and continuously pressured Virginia’s QB all day long. They also held the Cavaliers to 63 rushing yards as a team, only the fourth time this season they’ve held a team to under 100 yards in that category.
Louisville has a chance to have another stellar performance from their defensive line. Syracuse’s offensive line has been one of the weak points in their offense, leaving their quarterbacks under pressure and not creating a ton of holes in the running game. If Louisville can win in the trenches again, it’d ease the pressure off of Louisville’s defensive backs with tough assignments this week.
- Louisville receivers v. Syracuse DBs
Last season, Louisville’s passing game had a prolific outing against a Syracuse defense that lacks playmakers in the secondary. This was evident when Louisville was able to land multiple plays of 50+ yards against the Orange last year, and exploded for 60+ points against them.
While it’s doubtful they can replicate their historic night last season, Louisville’s passing game could be in for a big game against the Orange. Only one starter from last year’s game is expected to play, and their 82nd ranked passing defense hasn’t had a lot of success slowing down teams in recent weeks. It could lead to another big day for Jackson, in what could possibly be his final game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Others to Watch
- Weather Situation (expected to be rainy and winds of 20+ MPH)
- Louisville Running Game v. Zaire Franklin / Parris Bennett
- Syracuse Fourth Down Opportunities: Syracuse has more fourth-down attempts (33) than any other FBS team.