Three keys for Syracuse against Georgia Tech

The Syracuse Orange opened its first Atlantic Coast Conference road venture in style with a 24-10 win against the North Carolina State Wolfpack last Saturday in Raleigh. Both squads struggled to finish drives as both Riley Dixon and Wil Baumann each punted seven times. The game remained tight midway through the fourth quarter with the score tied at 10 apiece. That’s when Syracuse’s running game took control.

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Can Syracuse’s run game produce against Georgia Tech?

Syracuse broke the tie with a three-play drive covering 80 yards highlighted by a 57-yard burst by Jerome Smith. The junior was his usual workhorse self having finished with 140 yards on 19 rushes including a one-yard touchdown run to give the Orange an early 7-0 lead. On the next play after Smith’s long run, Prince-Tyson Gulley scored from 18 yards out to give Syracuse a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Gulley was at it again on Syracuse’s next possession exploding for a 48 yard gallop down to the Wolfpack three yard line. After a five yard penalty, quarterback Terrel Hunt scored Syracuse’s last touchdown of the day on an 8-yard run.

» Related: Syracuse a ‘must-win’ game for Georgia Tech

The Orange entered the game still smarting from a 49-14 waxing by Clemson just a week earlier. This game was critically important to win not only to avoid starting league play with a mark of 0-2 but also from the standpoint of bowl eligibility. The game was a mixed in terms of Syracuse did well and what could use some work in the coming weeks.

Ground and Pound

For the second straight week, Syracuse’s running game put up numbers that most quarterbacks would like to have for passing yards. The Orange ran the ball 40 times for 362 yards. That is an astonishing 9.2 yards per carry. Like Smith, Gulley also eclipsed the century mark with 132 yards on just nine carries for an incredible 14.7 yards per touch. Not to be outdone, Hunt rushed 11 times for 92 yards. A week earlier Syracuse gashed Clemson’s run defense for 323 yards on 48 rushes. That’s 685 yards in the past two games. No wonder Syracuse’s rushing attack is third in the ACC and 23rd nationally.

Not Cleared for Takeoff

As dominant as the run game has been in conference play so far, Hunt and the passing game have yet to get untracked. After carving up lesser opponents like Wagner and Tulane through the air, Hunt has struggled to solve the pass defenses he’s encountered in the ACC. The sophomore was 10-of-20 for only 74 yards and two more interceptions after tossing three against Clemson. He’s yet to throw a touchdown pass in league play. Hunt isn’t solely responsible for the passing game’s struggles. The wide receivers share in the blame. No wideout caught any of Hunt’s mere eight completions against the Tigers. They weren’t much better against the Wolfpack as Jeremiah Kobena and Chris Clark caught two passes each for a total of 17 yards. Since torching Wagner for 147 yards on five catches, one a 65-yard score, Jarrod West has been AWOL. He had one reception for four yards in the Tulane win and has been shutout since. West was counted on being one of the go-to receivers as the season commenced but that has yet to materialize.

» Related: What we learned from SU’s win over NC State

Win One for the Shafer

Despite losing the time of possession battle by almost seven minutes, committing eight penalties to State’s four, and converting only 5-of-14 on third down, Syracuse still managed to win. On the road no less. With a very winnable game on the road against Georgia Tech this Saturday, Syracuse will again need huge production from its run game until the passing game can find its wings.

Former coach Paul Pasqualoni used to tell his teams that the hottest fire makes the strongest steel. Maybe that’s true about this squad. Beating the Yellow Jackets will go a long way towards earning bowl eligibility. No doubt the flames will continue to burn for the Orange.

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About Steve Auger

Steve Auger is a freelance writer whose work has covered a variety of topics including sports, pets, parenting, healthy living, local government and human interest stories. His work has been published on Care.com, Tom’s of Maine, Purina’s Petcentric.com and the Westford Patch. Steve’s been a diehard Syracuse sports fan for over 25 years. To this day, the words “Smart takes the shot” still make him cringe. Follow him on Twitter @Corner_Cube.
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