Sports, Football

Previewing 2021 Football: At Syracuse

After dropping its third straight game, Boston College will visit Syracuse while scrambling for its first ACC win. The Eagles are on the hunt for their fourth straight win in the Carrier Dome. BC is currently in last place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, sitting just one conference win behind Syracuse.

Despite recent woes, BC showed flashes after scoring the game’s first touchdown at Louisville last week. Offensive struggles persisted from there on out, however, and the passing game appeared to have lost all command in what would turn out to be a 28–14 loss. Quarterback Dennis Grosel—for the third straight week—threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and looked flummoxed in a game that was already turnover-prone due to severe weather. 

The absence of Phil Jurkovec, because of what is likely a season-ending wrist injury, has been a detriment to the Eagles’ season. BC head coach Jeff Hafley has yet to announce who will start at quarterback on Saturday, though he said he already made the decision. The Eagles are famished for another win on the board. 

Who is BC playing?

Syracuse

When is BC playing?

Saturday, Oct. 30, 3:30 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y. 

How to Watch:

The game will be televised on ACC RSN, including NESN in Boston.

Series History:

BC and Syracuse meet for the 55th time Saturday, and BC trails the all-time series in the Carrier dome 6–12. The Eastern rivals met every year from 1971–2004 and have competed as members of both the ACC and Big East conferences. Syracuse leads the all-time series 32–22, including a record of 20–9 at home. Last week, the Orange snapped a losing streak in a 41–36 comeback win at Virginia Tech after rallying to fight a deficit of nine points with just over five minutes to play. 

The Eagles’ three-game win streak on the road against Syracuse is the Eagles’ second road win streak against an ACC opponent of three games or more, having previously defeated Wake Forest in 2014, 2016, and 2018 at Truist Field in Winston-Salem. BC scored its most points in series history against Syracuse in 2019, accumulating 58 points and a school record 691 yards of offense. Running backs AJ Dillon and David Bailey combined for 414 of those yards and five touchdowns rushing, in addition to Grosel’s 195 passing yards and three scores. BC totaled 44 points and 484 yards of offense in the first half, marking the most points and total yards in a half for the Eagles in an ACC game. 

What to expect from Syracuse:

Offense

In recent years, the Orange offensive line has looked dismal on all fronts. The numbers especially weren’t pretty in a miserable 2020 campaign. According to Pro Football Focus, Syracuse allowed 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss per game in 2020. Four of the Orange’s five starters from a year ago returned, however, with the exception of Qadir White, who entered the transfer portal in early spring. Transfers Willie Tyler and Jakob Bradford joined the unit, and Florida transfer Chris Bleich became eligible this season after sitting out the 2020 season. Bleich is a proven force at guard, and senior left tackle Matthew Bergeron solidifies the final missing pieces. 

The Orange rushing attack has been potent this season. Averaging 242 yards per game, ’Cuse ranks eighth nationally in rushing offense behind a dual-threat system in quarterback Garrett Shrader and running back Sean Tucker. Shrader was inserted into the starting role just five games ago, in replacement for Tommy Devito, and he has been terrific ever since. In his past four outings, Shrader averaged 123.8 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns per game. He has posted a QBR of 75.8 in comparison to the national average of 62.0. Tucker, on pace for a 1,600-yard season, displays a similar authority, and is a shoo-in for the ACC rushing title. Tucker excels on his ability to make explosive cuts, and in the flat, he is likely to out-sprint any single linebacker in coverage. He is an intelligent prospect and keen at identifying open lanes—a testament to his awareness in the backfield.  

Syracuse has little to declare in the passing arena, but Shrader’s mobility makes up for his poor completion percentage. It would be no surprise to find Shrader, a redshirt sophomore out of North Carolina, climbing the ladder of ACC quarterback rankings in upcoming seasons.

Defense

After dropping a single-digit loss against Louisville—the 114th ranked defense in total yards—Hafley has an arduous dance ahead of him in the Syracuse defense, which sits 25th nationally in passing yards allowed.

The Orange match well on defense in opposition to an offense like BC. Even when facing empty sets, ’Cuse plays with consistency in passing coverage, enabling linebackers to drop in alternative to blitz and still pressure throws. Eliciting tight windows in coverage increases forced time in the pocket and by the same token chances for sacks, breakups and scrambles by a substantial margin. Grosel classifies among the lowest of ACC quarterbacks in ability to make timed throws to a second or third read. The Orange stack well in this respect, forcing secondary options as a means to completions. Grosel will need to avoid throwing downfield into heavy coverage. Tight end Joey Luchetti is exemplary of a player who will primarily stack on the front end to help avoid collapse at the line, but has a quality release to extend plays. Between Syracuse and BC, the game will be a contest of who can better infiltrate the empty spaces.   

Syracuse ranks 60th in the nation in scoring defense and eighth in the FBS at 3.5 sacks per game. Defensive lineman Cody Roscoe and linebacker Marlowe Wax steer the pack at 6.5 and six sacks respectively, including 33 yards for loss on sacks apiece. Linebacker Mikel Jones leads the Orange in total tackles with 73. 

Outlook

The Orange appear to have put last year in the rearview, and the Eagles are losing ground quickly. If Grosel manages to slow down what’s in front of him and make routine, on-time passes on more efficient routes, this could be anyone’s game, but Syracuse made its debut last week at Virginia Tech and will look to capitalize on that momentum. The Orange were snubbed of a win in back-to-back weeks against Wake Forest (a 40–37 overtime loss) and Clemson (a 17–14 loss). 

To avoid falling four games in four matchups, BC will again rely heavily on the three-dimensional rush attack in running backs Pat Garwo III, Alec Sinkfield, and Travis Levy. Sinkfield emerged in the past two weeks at Louisville and at home against NC State. He has shown good progression and has officially established himself as a reliable second option. Sinkfield is a pace-of-play back capable of breaking out for big gains when the defense is caught on its back foot. He is versatile and physically commanding, a healthy go to when Garwo is in need of rest. 

If ’Cuse remains stout on defense, giving its offense time with the ball, Shrader and Tucker will be a troublesome duo. Grosel needs to leapfrog his feverish shell and settle in the pocket to make quality throws. 

Featured Image courtesy of Dennis Nett / Syracuse Post-Standard

October 29, 2021
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