Syracuse will try to keep its bowl hopes alive when it travels to Louisville to play the Cardinals on Saturday afternoon (4:00 p.m. ET / ACC Network). Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
BRAD BIERMAN (Season Record: 3-5): This has been another Atlantic Division rivalry that has had a crooked number not in Syracuse’s favor since Louisville entered the ACC in 2014. In fact, the lone SU victory last year in the Dome rout 54-23, was payback of sorts for Lamar Jackson wreaking havoc on the ‘Cuse “D’ for a trio of seasons, and sent former coach Bobby Petrino packing last November with one game to go in a 2-10 campaign.
Achieving bowl eligibility with two games to play this year showcases the tremendous job new coach Scott Satterfield has done in an instant turnaround to a bowl game, and the returning Cardinals have payback on their minds against the Orange in their only home game of the month.
This game figures to come down to which defense can stop the other offense more often, with both teams having had explosive third quarters in their victories last week, SU with defensive prowess causing turnovers against Duke, and UL with offensive fireworks beating North Carolina State.
The ‘Cuse secondary will be challenged by Cardinals quarterback Micale Cunningham and a pair of his fleet receivers, and a rushing attack that has been consistent. In turn, Syracuse running backs had their best game of the season against Duke, and Tommy DeVito and Trishton Jackson have found their groove.
It’s again a single elimination matchup for the Orange, a win necessary to keep bowl eligibility intact, and we certainly liked the way SU played last week in its most convincing win of the season. But we think another strong effort will come up just short when Louisville uses a late field goal to send SU home unhappy falling to the Cardinals 30-28.
WES CHENG (Season Record: 6-1): For one week, Syracuse looked like the team everyone thought they would be.
In a 49-6 rout at Duke, the Orange defended well, causing three turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown by safety Andre Cisco.
That showing was in part due to the return of tackle McKinley Williams, who had been out with a lower body injury. The front of Williams, Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson, and several key adjustments on defense to simplify coverage packages showed immediate dividends.
And the offense finally flexed its muscles against a Power 5 opponent. Tommy DeVito had been a sitting target for most of the season thanks to a leaky offensive line that had surrendered 42 sacks, an NCAA worst following a humiliating loss to Boston College.
But against the Blue Devils, SU adjusted its offensive line, moving Airon Servais to tackle and Carlos Vettorello to center. The result was 286 rushing yards, and only one sack allowed on DeVito.
The question is whether this was a one-game aberration, or whether the adjustments to the offensive line and defensive philosophy is exactly what the Orange needed.
They’ll need to win out to make a bowl game, and that starts with a Louisville team that has shown the ability to put points on the scoreboard in a hurry.
Quarterback Micale Cunningham has led a mostly potent Cardinals attack, with the offense exceeding 30 or more points five times this season, including an impressive 62 points against then-No. 19 Wake Forest.
Cunningham is a steady presence who rarely makes mistakes. He has 14 touchdown passes against three interceptions to date, and he’s rushed for five more, showing his ability to hurt teams with his legs as much as his arm.
I think Cunningham will be the difference in what will be a closely contested game, and a late touchdown from Cunningham sends the Cardinals to a 27-21 win, and the Orange to a winter without a bowl game.