Everything You Need to Know: Louisville at #13 Syracuse

Spread: Syracuse -21.5

How to Watch: 7:00 p.m. kickoff on ESPN2 (Friday)

Last Time: In a rain-soaked contest at Cardinal Stadium, Louisville piled on the points in a 56-10 onslaught. The Cardinals compiled 772 yards, mostly on a staggering 411 yards on 42 carries. Both Lamar Jackson (111 yards, two touchdowns) and Malik Williams (nine carries, 180 yards, two touchdowns) reached the century mark on their rushing totals. The Cardinals secondary had perhaps their best game of the season, picking off Syracuse four times and holding the Orange to under 50% completion.

Louisville leads the all-time series 10-6.

The State of the Syracuse Orange

I’m not sure what the pulse for the “Coach of the Year” award is heading into mid-November, but there needs to be some consideration for Syracuse head coach Dino Babers. Babers entered this year on the hotseat in upstate New York, coming off of back-to-back 4-8 seasons.

But this year, the Orange have kept quarterback Eric Dungey healthy, and the result is a tremendous season that has them bowl eligible for the first time since 2013.

Additionally, Syracuse enters tomorrow’s game 13th in the CFP poll, their highest ranking since 2001. The Orange hold a 7-2 record, with notable wins over NC State and a 30-7 blowout of Florida State.

Key Players: QB Eric Dungey, WR Jamal Custis, DE Alton Robinson

One of the main reasons for Syracuse’s success in 2018 is because quarterback Eric Dungey is healthy, and he is producing at a really high level. When he is on the field, Syracuse’s offense is substantially better. Dungey does struggle sometimes with accuracy, but he can make a lot of tough throws in one-on-one coverage. He’s also a really capable scrambler, blowing off arm tackles for small chunks of yards. He should be the difference maker for Syracuse’s offense on Friday.

Head coach Dino Babers has had a go-to receiver every season at Syracuse. Two years ago, he had Amba Etta-Tawo smash school records. Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips accounted for over 2,250 receiving yards combined in Syracuse’s offense last season. Jamal Custis is the top option in the Syracuse passing game, and he can definitely stretch the field. He leads the Orange in receiving yards (734) and yards per catch (18.4), mostly on being able to take go routes and make great adjustments on the ball. Sean Riley and Nykeim Johnson are also really solid.

On defense, Syracuse doesn’t rank very highly in a lot of key categories (97th in total defense, 76th in scoring defense). But they are tied for 14th nationally in sacks (27), and it is in large part to their stud defensive lineman Alton Robinson. With seven sacks on the year and 13 tackles for loss, he’ll be a key matchup against a Louisville offense that is looking to regain some of its lost momentum from last week’s shellacking at Clemson.

Key Matchups

  • Eric Dungey and Mo Neal v. Louisville Front Seven

Until proven otherwise, it will be another game where Louisville’s poor rushing defense could be dominated by a Syracuse rushing attack that has a lot of talent in their backfield. Dungey is probably the best scrambling quarterback in the ACC, posting 628 yards and ten touchdowns on the ground (along with 2,001 passing yards and 13 touchdowns through the air).

The Orange will also use Moe Neal (557 yards, three touchdowns, 5.02 yards per carry) and Dontae Strickland often (354 yards, six touchdowns). With Louisville’s defensive line continuing to rank among the worst in the FBS in sacks and rushing defense, it could be another game where Louisville’s opponents simply have their way on the ground.

  • Jamal Custis v. Louisville Secondary

Louisville’s rushing defense has easily been the worst among the Power Five schools, and no one would be surprised if Syracuse stuck with their running game to rack up the points.

But schematically, I think Syracuse will take a lot more shots downfield than most teams Louisville has faced this season. The Orange love to stretch the field with Custis or Nykeim Johnson, and they have the ability to make adjustments and beat Louisville’s secondary outside. Assuming that Louisville’s defensive line continues its trend of failing to wreak havoc, Eric Dungey could also have a successful outing through the air, in large part to Custis.

  • Louisville Offensive Line v. Syracuse Defensive Line

In order for Louisville to keep this competitive, it will have to be a shootout where their offense is playing their best ball of the season. That will mean a quality outing from Louisville’s offensive line, who is also continuing to be among the worst in the country in allowing negative plays.

The Cards have to set the tone outside with their offensive tackles, and keep Syracuse defensive linemen Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman from disrupting their plays. If they can prevent Syracuse from setting the edge, it can do multiple things for them.

It can allow them to create lanes for Hassan Hall or Colin Wilson to wreak havoc. In Syracuse’s two losses to Clemson and Pittsburgh, they allowed 293 and 265 rushing yards, respectively. If Louisville can commit to a constant rushing attack with them, it would be a good start for their offense.

It could also create a clean pocket for Jawon Pass to be able to make throws to a vulnerable secondary. The Orange allowed 321 passing yards to North Carolina three weeks ago in a really close win, and then allowed 473 against North Carolina State. Louisville’s receivers have been largely successful in recent years against the Syracuse secondary, but they’ll be going against a unit that has tallied 12 interceptions this year. If Pass isn’t able to avoid the turnover bug that has plagued him all season, then Louisville could be facing another big blowout on Friday night.

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