Can you feel it, Syracuse faithful? With the lowly Wagner Seahawks coming to the JMA Wireless Dome on Saturday, the Syracuse Orange stand at the precipice of a 5-0 start to the season and a likely top 25 AP ranking shortly after. The Orange already claimed the 25th spot on the USA Today Coaches Poll this past week. (For reference, Syracuse hasn’t been AP ranked since September 2019, when they came in at No. 21 in the preseason. They promptly lost to Maryland 63-20 in the second game of the season, and the votes never came back.)
- Teams: Syracuse Orange (4-0, 2-0 ACC) v. Wagner Seahawks (0-3, 0-1 NEC)
- Date: Saturday, Oct. 1
- Game Time: 5:00 p.m. ET
- Venue: JMA Wireless Dome
- Network: ACCNX
Fearless Prediction: Syracuse 45, Wagner 7
The Juice Online Season Record: 4-0
So what about that Wagner team that stands between SU and a return to national glory? Frankly, there’s not much to say. The plain fact is they haven’t won a game since 2019, losing 25 straight. If Syracuse even has trouble with the Seahawks, it wouldn’t be an encouraging sign.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at what to watch for in Saturday’s game.
Shrader’s Accuracy On The Comeback
Against Virginia last week, QB Garrett Shrader had a low point on the season in terms of accuracy. After spending his first few years being a 50 percent completion percentage passer, Shrader had significantly improved his accuracy this year with a completion percentage each game in the high 70s.
In last week’s game, however, Shrader struggled with his accuracy being off-target on several throws (as well as having a few drops by his receivers) leading to a 22-of-33 day. Is that a problem? Not particularly as 67 percent is still a fine completion percentage, but it was the first blip in Shrader’s incredible start to the season.
Against a team like Wagner, you’d like to see Shrader bounce back and show that his accuracy this year is the norm, not the exception.
» Related: The case for removing FCS teams from future Syracuse football schedules
Wide Receivers Need To Step Up
As dominant an offensive start to the year as SU has had, it’s really been the duo of Shrader and RB Sean Tucker doing the heavy lifting. While the receiving core has been serviceable I’d argue the only true “threat” to other teams has been converted tight end Oronde Gadsden, who has been fantastic with 19 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
Courtney Jackson was the team’s leading receiver last year and I expected him to come in building off of that positive momentum and make a push to be this team’s go-to receiver. Instead he has just nine catches for 126 yards and one touchdown through four games, most of which came in the first two games in blowouts where the offense was piling on the points.
Damien Alford flashed deep ball potential with his speed in the preseason and it was easy to imagine him being electric in this offense. Through four games, Alford currently has three catches for 65 yards and one touchdown, with over three-quarters of his receiving yards coming on one 47-yard catch.
The good news is Syracuse is undefeated without much production from their wideouts, so any positive regression there should take this offense to the next level. SU just needs to see that production coming sooner rather than later so the Orange offense is firing on all cylinders against better opponents.
This And That
That’s just about all I’m watching for in this game. Wagner is an FCS school that hasn’t won a game in nearly three full years and will struggle mightily under SU’s relentless pass rush, shutdown cornerback tandem, and explosive offensive system. They have a linebacker Titus Leo that’s a two-time defensive player of the year in the NEC, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll have any real impact outside of a couple tackles on Tucker.
It goes without saying I like Syracuse in this one, though I do have an issue with them covering the 54.5 (!!) point spread. No team should be taken so lightly, and I could see Wagner making a few plays here and there (and Syracuse being occasionally sloppy) to cover that outsized number.
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