After Syracuse’s 31-14 loss to Clemson, where the Orange gave up the most points it has all season, it would be logical to look at the defense and see that they gave up their most points in a game this season by a considerable margin and they were at fault. But, that is not the case, as three Syracuse turnovers turned into 21 Clemson points on short fields. If anything, it was the offense that did not do a good enough job scoring points and sustaining drives against the Tigers’ defense.
But, this week, the Orange defense has an even steeper test with a trip to Chapel Hill to take on #14 North Carolina and the undefeated Tar Heels. Leading the way for UNC is quarterback Drake Maye, who has been projected as at least a first-round pick, if not top-10 by industry draft experts for the 2024 NFL Draft.
“This will be the best quarterback we’ve played this year,” Syracuse head coach Babers said in his Monday press conference according to syracuse.com. “Obviously (Klubnik) played extremely well. This guy is different. He’s going to be an NFL guy. He’s what makes that team go on offense. He gets his playmakers the ball in situations where they can make plays. That’s why they are an explosive team and score a lot of points.”
Through four games this year, Maye is completing 72.7% of his passes for 1,187 yards but has just a 5:4 touchdown to interception ratio. He has also rushed for three touchdowns on the year, but his arm is where the money is made for the Tar Heels, as he proved last season by throwing for 4,321 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions.
“It’s going to be fun because they’re going to throw it deep and we’re going to cover them deep and we’re going to have to find a way to get that done,” Babers said according to syracuse.com. “That’s part of the game. That’s part of our style. That’s part of their style. I don’t think they are going to deviate and I know we’re not going to.”
The Orange have some questions in the secondary after their play against Clemson, with Jeremiah Wilson getting replaced in the second half by Jayden Bellamy and Justin Barron leaving the game due to injury. According to SU’s weekly depth chart, both (Wilson and Barron) are still listed as the starting players at their position, but that still leaves questions heading into the weekend.
“Whoever is going to suit up is going to suit up,” Babers said according to syracuse.com. “We don’t know who we’ll have available. Some of those injuries change from week to week, day to day. Hopefully, we’ll have them both. But the game plan we have to put in regardless of them. We have to operate like they aren’t going to be there and if they are it’s a bonus.”
Maye has thrown for over 200 yards in every game this season but has also been sacked nine times in just four games, presenting an opportunity for SU’s defensive line to make an impact on the game at the line of scrimmage by putting pressure on Maye. Yet, the second-year starter has completed at least 70% of his passes in each of his first four games this year despite that pressure, proving just how hard he is to defend against. It will be a huge challenge for Rocky Long’s defense on Saturday.