We’ve finally made it, football fans. Syracuse Orange football is just days away from taking the field inside the Carrier- excuse me, JMA Wireless Dome. I guess some things will take some getting used to.
- Teams: Syracuse Orange (0-0, 0-0 ACC) v. Louisville Cardinals (0-0, 0-0)
- Date: Saturday, Sept. 3
- Game Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
- Venue: JMA Wireless Dome
- Network: ACC Network
Fearless Prediction: Syracuse 28, Louisville 24
The Juice Online Season Record: 0-0
On their way up north for a primetime Saturday night game are the Louisville Cardinals and their star quarterback, Malik Cunningham. The mere mention of Cunningham’s name is enough to trigger a facial tick for me, but a new season brings fresh hope to the Dome. Here’s what to watch for in Saturday night’s game.
CUNNINGHAM WILL LITERALLY RUN THE SHOW
If there’s a bright side to facing Louisville, it’s knowing exactly where the damage will come from. Cunningham has been the singular thorn in SU’s side for the last couple of years, and the defense will need to key on stopping him in whatever way possible.
In last year’s match up, you may be encouraged to know Cunningham attempted the same amount of passes as Garrett Shrader– only 18. How bad could it have been? Well, Cunningham shredded the SU defense for 209 yards with four passing touchdowns and a rushing score on just 10 completions. Big plays are his game. No matter how improved SU’s offense may be this year, SU can’t give up that kind of performance on the other side of the ball.
As electric as Cunningham is with his legs, SU actually did a good job containing him last year as he had just seven rushes for 19 yards. Tony White’s defense can match that kind of performance with the talent SU has at linebacker. The real priority is SU’s corners not giving up big plays. The previous game saw three receivers have at least one touchdown and average at least 9.0 yards per catch. SU’s corners will have to play more disciplined zone coverage and limit plays downfield, and force Cunningham to beat the defense with his legs. SU has the offensive firepower this year to keep up with that kind of game.
MAKE MALIK RUN, MAKE SHRADER SHOOT
I know, I know. Shrader looks like a special talent when taking off with the ball in his hands. You don’t want to limit a special trait in a player’s game.
The issue is that SU is not going to win a game like this with Shrader getting 20 rushing attempts again. That’s right, he had 20 rush attempts last year. For 43 yards. With a long of 25. That cannot happen again.
Shrader’s needed development as a passer is well documented, and he appears to be taking strides, especially with Robert Anae at the helm of the offense. It’s a tough assignment in week 1, though, and like it or not Shrader will have to come out slinging if SU is to match the Cardinals score for score.
There’s no doubt Sean Tucker is one of the best backs in the nation, but Louisville has Shrader’s tape too and will likely sell out on containing Tucker and daring Shrader to beat them by himself. He may have to.
» Related: Can Syracuse’s retooled offense make an impact in 2022?
THE FIRST LOOK AT OUR DEFENSIVE LINE
This is a big one. I broke down the level of inexperience along SU’s defensive line in my Defensive Line Position Breakdown back in June. Since then, there’s been a change up with the release of the first depth chart.
While I originally was quite excited about Steve Linton and his ability to use his length and lighter weight to develop into a dominant pass rusher, he’s not currently on the two-deep depth chart, at defensive end or linebacker. In his place is redshirt freshman Jatius Geer, who’s quietly worked his way from my projected fourth string to a starting spot.
Geer has incredible size at 6’6” 233 pounds, but he’s just as green as the rest of this line. Louisville is returning four of their offensive line starters and has an effective ground game to go along with Cunningham’s arm. Syracuse is going to be expecting guys with their first year game action together as a unit to be both dominant and disciplined. If there’s an Achilles’ heel in this first game, it’s at the defensive line spot.
In the end though, I have to say I like Syracuse’s chance to pull a small upset here. Beyond the hiring of Anae, which should vastly improve Shrader’s effectiveness in the offense, SU has All-American level players on defense and an offensive line that’s the best SU has had in years.
This Orange team has something to prove this year, and against this Louisville team in particular. The atmosphere should be there for Week 1 on Saturday night in prime time in front of what should be a nearly sold out JMA Dome crowd.
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers has his eyes set on seven wins and a bowl berth, and knocking off Louisville at home would be the perfect beginning to that goal as I predict Syracuse wins to start the season.
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