Syracuse fans are still having Malik Willis nightmares from last year. Two touchdowns, 182 passing yards, 70 rushing yards, and one year later, the Orange are expecting more of the same from the quarterback after Liberty’s 38-21 win over Syracuse.
“He’s one year older. One year faster. One year stronger. One year knows the offense better,” Syracuse Head Coach Dino Babers said. “I’m sure the coaches know him better.”
The nation knows him better too. Willis is getting Heisman and NFL Draft buzz. Nobody will be surprised if Willis has a field day in the Dome again on Friday. But that doesn’t mean that Syracuse won’t be caught off guard.
Linebacker Marlowe Wax, who had one of the two sacks on Willis last season, says that the young quarterbacks on the scout team, true freshman Justin Lamson included, are giving the SU defense a good look. But Babers says there is no way to truly prepare for the speed and elusiveness of Willis outside of watching last year’s tape.
But it’s not just Willis who’s a common denominator between last year and this year. Don’t forget about Shedro Louis. The tailback racked up 172 yards on the ground, and exposed one of the worst rushing defenses in the ACC.
The entire offensive starting unit is back from last year for the Flames. On the defensive side, 10 of 11 are back. So, SU should know exactly what they’re getting in a Liberty team that went on to win all but one game, with the exception of a road loss to NC State on a blocked field goal at the end of the game.
On the defensive side, Liberty sacked Syracuse three times last season. Granted, the Orange didn’t concede a sack last week, for the first time since 2017. But Liberty has racked up 10 total sacks over the past two weeks.
The major differences between last year’s Liberty game and this year will come on the Syracuse side. Quarterback Rex Culpepper was thrown into starting duties with the injury to Tommy DeVito. Now, DeVito is healthy with Garrett Shrader alongside him. Sean Tucker remains a constant with over 100 yards from last year’s matchup, coming off a career day last week.
Syracuse is outmatched. Not too much has changed from last season when that statement was true. The biggest difference is that won’t be flying under the radar now. Liberty is known, and Syracuse knows them all too well.
For our Fizz Staff predictions on the game, circle back to our website later in the week.