With a week of rest following the best start to a season since 1987, No. 18 Syracuse (5-0, 2-0 ACC) welcomes No. 15 NC State (5-1, 1-1) to the JMA Wireless Dome, with the Pack coming off an impressive win over Florida State despite a late injury to their star quarterback Devin Leary.
Syracuse absolutely whalloped their previous opponent 59-0, though that was to be expected against the winless FCS Wagner Seahawks. While Purdue and Virginia both took Syracuse down to the wire, this upcoming game is widely expected to be Syracuse’s first real test of the season. Here’s what to watch for.
- Teams: Syracuse Orange (5-0, 2-0 ACC) v. NC State Wolfpack (5-1, 1-1 ACC)
- Date: Saturday, Oct. 15
- Game Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
- Venue: JMA Wireless Dome
- Network: ACCN
Fearless Prediction: Syracuse 21, NC State 17
The Juice Online Season Record: 5-0
OUTCOME HINGES ON LEARY INJURY
NC State coach Dave Doeren has played coy about the status of Devin Leary, saying Leary was “day-to-day” yet “could be out six weeks” on Monday before cryptically adding “you’ll see on Saturday” in his press conference Thursday. Certainly, there’s some gamesmanship against Syracuse involved in those statements.
I’m split on what to expect from Doeren. With the injury being to Leary’s throwing shoulder, it’s fair to expect Leary to sit for one game to heal up and prevent further injury against an aggressive and hard-hitting Syracuse defense. Backup QB Jack Chambers led the team to a win with three field goal drives, but only threw one pass.
On the other hand, this is a huge ACC match up for a team with CFP aspirations. If the injury isn’t as bad as it looked, is Doeren willing to put Leary back out there for his best chance to win a big game?
To me the hit looked pretty serious, and I think the Pack coaching staff has confidence in their 17th ranked defense to survive with Chambers for a week. I expect Leary to sit this one out.
STATE DEFENSE FAMILIAR TO SYRACUSE
Speaking of that defense, it should look pretty familiar to Syracuse offensive coordinator Robert Anae as he goes up against it in practice every day. Both SU and NC State run a 3-3-5 base defense and that’s one reason why I expect SU to have success against it.
State’s 3-3-5 has been terrific this year, ranked 21st in the country against the pass and 28th against the run. They also had success against Syracuse last year in a 41-17 blowout, holding Garrett Shrader to just 8-of-20 passing for 63 yards and an interception.
While that may seem like an advantage for the Wolfpack, this is a much improved offense and QB from last year. Shrader is completing 70.9% of his and has maintained his elite running ability. Last year, he gashed the Pack defense for 70 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Additionally, Sean Tucker had 105 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in that game. Add Anae to the mix, and you could see similar results but with the benefit of a more efficient passing attack.
SU’s defensive coordinator Tony White has likely been telling Anae what to expect from State, and has been giving the offense good looks in practice. With the extra week to prepare, I’d count on Syracuse coming out and surprising the Wolfpack defense in a packed home game at the Loud House.
» Related: Former Syracuse offensive lineman predicts Orange win over NC State
STAT THAT MATTERS: RED ZONE ADVANTAGE
One area that could be a big factor in this game is each team’s performance in the red zone. NC State’s defense- as great as it has been- has been poor in the red zone. On the year they’re dead last, tied for 128th in red zone defense, allowing opponents to go 11-for-11. They’ve given up six rushing TDs, three passing TDs, and two FGs.
Syracuse’s offense on the other hand, is currently ninth in the nation in red zone offense, going 23-of-24. They’ve converted with 10 rushing TDs, five passing TDs, and eight FGs.
With how well SU can move the ball to set up red zone opportunities, that is a huge mismatch for NC State.
Between the backup QB starting for NC State and a tough defense that is highly ranked but struggles in the red zone, I expect Syracuse to go run-heavy and shock the college football world by keeping the win streak alive and moving to 6-0.
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