Syracuse will try for its second win of the season when they face the Louisville Cardinals (7:00 p.m. ET / ESPN) on Friday. Ahead of the game, The Juice Online’s Brad Bierman and Wes Cheng give their predictions below.
These two programs once played outside the U.S., dueling in the Coca-Cola Classic in Tokyo in 1989 when Syracuse was an Eastern Independent, and Louisville was also in-between conferences – the Missouri Valley and Conference USA. Through the Big East and now seven years in the ACC since Louisville replaced Maryland in 2014, SU-UL has become an annual rivalry in the Atlantic Division.
With the 2020 matchup at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium for a second-straight year due to alterations with respect to pandemic-related ACC scheduling, a disappointing season will perk up for one of the teams. Either one-win ‘Cuse will end a five game losing streak, the longest for the program since eight straight defeats under Scott Shafer in 2015, or the ‘Ville will win its third game out of nine played.
Syracuse got a break this week when UL announced that leading rusher Javian Hawkins, who did not play last week due to COVID-19 protocols in a 31-17 loss versus Virginia, has opted out of the rest of his college career to get ready for the NFL Draft. Hawkins rushed for 233 yards against SU in last season’s 56-34 Cardinals win. UL wide receiver Tutu Atwell who also did not play against UVA due to COVID-19 issues, and is questionable to face SU nursing an undisclosed injury. Atwell ran up and down the field last year against the Orange secondary with five catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns including a 90 yard blitz.
Unfortunately for Syracuse, quarterback Malik Cunningham is going to be playing, and his eye-opening six touchdown production (five TD passes and a 20-yard rushing scamper) last year remains distinct. In the Virginia loss, Cunningham had a career-best 197 yards rushing, but his interception and subsequent late fumble cost the Cardinals in the fourth quarter.
For the Orange after a week off, the JaCobian Morgan audition moves on to the road with his second game as the starter. The time off will also demonstrate under the Friday Night spotlight the job Dino Babers and his staff have done getting the team ready to play competitively for the final three games, a 2020 season Babers described this week as needing an asterisk attached with all that has transpired on and off the field.
Syracuse will be ready to play, through three quarters trailing by nine points. But in the end Cunningham will be the difference with a touchdown then a clinching field goal drive to provide Louisville with a 37-24 victory over Syracuse.
Season Record 4-3
Louisville may be the most talented 2-6 team in the country. Statistically, they’re at the very least an average team, ranking 73rd in the country in offense (27.9 ppg) while their defense is also decidedly in the middle of the pack (61st in the country at 29.8 ppg).
The issue for the Cardinals have been turnovers. Louisville has coughed up the ball 18 times this season, which ranks in the bottom three of the FBS. While quarterback Malik Cunningham has thrown for 1,907 yards and 15 touchdowns, he’s also thrown nine interceptions. He also committed a costly fumble in the fourth quarter in a 31-17 loss to Virginia last week.
Louisville’s strength is more in its running game, where they’ve averaged 201.6 yards per game, good for 35th in the FBS. But Syracuse won’t be facing as daunting a task, because Javian Hawkins, who has rushed for 822 yards to date, opted out of the remainder of the season to train for the 2021 NFL Draft. He was fourth in the ACC when he declared on Monday.
As for Syracuse, true freshman quarterback JaCobian Morgan showed some promise in his first career start for the injured Rex Culpepper. He was 19 for 30 for 188 yards and one touchdown plus one interception as Syracuse nearly pulled off an upset against Boston College in a 16-13 loss. The offensive line only surrendered four sacks, so there are some positive signs for an anemic offense that is 128th in the FBS at 18.3 ppg.
Both teams are searching for their second ACC win of the season, but in the end Louisville simply has too much talent as they top Syracuse in a 31-14 win.