Syracuse has three losses and the last two have been ugly. The most recent was a 49-14 loss to Clemson in the ACC opener for the Orange. The opener was against the most talented team in the conference, and one that could very well win a national championship.
Next up is NC State. The Wolfpack enters Saturday’s game 3-2 and 0-2 in the ACC, having lost to Clemson and Wake Forest. In that game against Clemson, NC State lost 26-14. The Wolfpack kept it close against a championship-caliber team like the Tigers, which is a tough sign for the Orange.
Looking ahead to NC State, this is a game Syracuse could win. Here are five things to look for on Saturday against the Wolfpack.
1. Better defense against Pete Thomas. The Syracuse defense looked abysmal against Clemson. It showed major difficulty stopping Tajh Boyd from stepping back and throwing bombs down field. But Wolfpack quarterback Thomas’ numbers are incredibly lopsided. He has thrown two touchdowns to seven interceptions through five games. He didn’t throw a touchdown until September 28 against Central Michigan. He has thrown at least one interception in every game so far this season. However, he’s not afraid to use his legs: he has two rushing touchdowns this season and he’s NC State’s second leading rusher. Thomas is not a star quarterback like Boyd, but he can be dangerous if nobody is paying attention to him. Look for the Syracuse defense to be more focused on preventing a long pass, especially since the secondary has struggled and is without Keon Lyn for the rest of the season.
2. Terrel Hunt will be back. Last week was simply a one-week setback for Hunt. The toughness and speed of the Clemson defense was a shock to the young quarterback and he probably wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the Tigers defense. The NC State game could be a real test. Can Hunt become one of the premier quarterbacks in the league? Looking at the numbers, a win against NC State could be a sign of Syracuse’s talent and what the team as a whole can keep up with. Watch for Hunt to be much better than his 33 percent completion rate and three picks against Clemson.
3. Jerome Smith will keep on trucking. Believe it or not, Smith’s best game of the season came last weekend against Clemson. Aside from the fact that he’s recorded a touchdown in every game of the season thus far, he was able to put up big numbers against a team like Clemson. Can he do it against NC State? The Wolfpack allow an average of 109 yards on the ground, and it allowed only 22 rushing yards the entire game to Richmond. The rush defense is good, but a breakout game for Smith against Clemson (18 carries, 125 yards, 1 TD) will give him the confidence and power to plow through the NC State defense. It’s a tough call, but he knows what he has to do. Look for him to be involved and active.
4. Hunt has to trust his offensive line. He said this was a struggle against Clemson and he wants to improve this against NC State. That means making sure he is comfortable in the pocket. One of his biggest problems against the Tigers was his inability to go mobile. If the offensive line can’t block for him, he is going to have to take off with his legs and gain yardage. If the offensive line can block for him, he will be more comfortable passing to receivers such as Chris Clark, Jarrod West and Ashton Broyld.
5. Look for a Syracuse win. It’s a tough call. It’s a coin toss, but Syracuse has this. The only downside is the lack of home-field advantage. The Orange is tired of struggles and wants to prove that it can be a legitimate team in the ACC. Syracuse hasn’t had quite an even matchup yet. Every game was either expected to be a blowout win (Wagner and Tulane) or a blowout loss (Northwestern and Clemson). The closest to an even matchup was Penn State and had Hunt been the starter, the outcome might have been different. This is the best test for Syracuse to see how good it is and the chances it could have at a bowl game or at least finishing with a record above .500.
Prediction time: Syracuse will get the win on the road, but it’s going to be very close. Like a game-winning field goal. I’ll say Syracuse wins 24-21.
Posted by: Austin Pollack