After taking down Purdue last week, Syracuse has a chance to be 4-0 for the first time since 2018. To do so, SU will have to take on an opponent it hasn’t seen in the Dino Babers era: Virginia. The last time these two schools met was in the final year of the Scott Shafer era, and the Cavaliers won a 44-38 3OT thriller over the Orange. Despite that win, UVA has revenge on its mind for this matchup.
Virginia has a completely different look this season after the departures of former Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall and Offensive Coordinator Robert Anae. While Mendenhall called an end to his career, Anae wasn’t finished. The Hawaii native is now on Dino Babers’ staff. That sets up a clash between old friends this weekend.
This year’s iteration of the Cavaliers hasn’t had the same offensive punch as last year. UVA had the third-highest yardage per game in the FBS last season, but it has only topped 20 points once this season. That was against an FCS team in Richmond. Still, Virginia is 2-1 for the second straight year, and they would’ve gone bowling last year had COVID not caused the game to be canceled.
Head Coach Tony Elliott
Elliott had never been a head coach before he arrived in Charlottesville. But, he did work under one of the best in the country in Dabo Swinney for over a decade. An offensive-minded coach, Elliott held a multitude of positions during his time in South Carolina, including working as the coach of both the running backs and receivers. Towards the end of his time at Clemson, Elliott saw duties as both offensive coordinator and associate head coach under Swinney. While his offense hasn’t looked great in his first three games, he’s got plenty of experience as an assistant to succeed as a head coach.
QB Brennan Armstrong
Under Anae, Armstrong was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country last year. The Ohio native broke the program record for passing yards in a game and season as well as the single-season passing touchdown mark. But through three games this season, Armstrong’s arm hasn’t been as strong. The mark of 710 passing yards isn’t bad, but he has more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2). Armstrong is also completing just 53% of his passes. He was at 65% a season ago. Armstrong certainly hasn’t looked like himself in the early going.
WR Keytaon Thompson
Thompson burst onto the scene in a big way last season, nearly accumulating 1,000 receiving yards. His mark of 12.7 yards per catch wasn’t too shabby either. But there is one significant flaw to Thompson’s game: he struggles to find the end zone. The New Orleans native only found paydirt once a year ago and has yet to find it in 2022. Thompson has been Elliott’s go-to wideout so far, and he’ll make life tough for the Orange secondary despite his struggles to score.
LB Nick Jackson
Jackson has been wreaking havoc for opposing offenses this season. The two-time All-ACC linebacker has done a little bit of everything for Elliott this year. He leads the team in tackles, has a sack, and has a pair of pass breakups. Syracuse star RB Sean Tucker has been slow out of the gate. Jackson will make life difficult for Tucker as he tries to burst out of his slump.
DB Anthony Johnson
Garrett Shrader has been phenomenal early in the season, but that trend won’t continue if he throws it Johnson’s way Friday. The Louisville transfer is now in his second season with the Cavaliers and has developed into a lockdown defensive back. After finishing in the top 10 in the conference in pass breakups and interceptions a year ago, Johnson has already broken up 2 passes and intercepted a ball this year. He’s also third on the team in tackles. Receiver Oronde Gadsden II is coming off a career game. He’ll have a tall task replicating it with Johnson roaming the secondary.
Syracuse and Virginia square off under the lights of the JMA Dome Friday at 7. The question is which will prevail: Anae’s knowledge of his old players or the Cavaliers’ knowledge of their old coach?