Opponent Breakdown: Syracuse

Andy Lyons

Saturday's matchup against the Syracuse Orange is the epitome of a "trap game". Can the Cards stay humble enough to take down a team fighting for a bowl berth for the second straight week?

Syracuse coach Doug Marrone entered this season on, arguably, the hottest seat in the Big East. Last season a big win over a 15th ranked West Virginia team might have been the only thing that saved his job seeing as his team went on to lose every game the rest of the way. Marrone faces a situation in which his team faces two straight opponents that could really help him cool down that seat. Throw in the fact that Syracuse will be celebrating it's Senior day and you have a recipe for an upset.

OFFENSE:

Syracuse's offense is like a "butterface" girl. It features NFL talent at three different positions. It has two of the top five receivers in the conference. A running back that's put up 376 yards in the last three games. Quarterback Ryan Nassib has a solid chance to hear his name called in April. All the stats and talent you could ask for, but they rank just 75th in the nation is scoring.

The Orange has killed itself with costly turnovers. They've given the ball away 17 times with three games to go. Add that to the fact that they only have 12 takeaways, and you have what is almost guarunteed to be a losing record. Ryan Nassib hasn't been terribly inaccurate or reckless with the ball, but he has turned the ball over multiple times in three of the four "big" games the Orange has played this year. Louisville has gotten to the quarterback and caused turnovers much better in the second half of the season. Nassib has a big arm and Marrone is not shy about putting the ball in the air. Louisville has to hope that it's relative success against teams that don't run the spread option can continue.

Jerome Smith has been on fire for the last three weeks. He's averaging 125 yards a game and the Orange are 2-1 over that span. Smith has been a consistent contributor this year but he didn't really take of until lately. He teams with the super quick Prince-Tyson Gulley and stud freshman Ashton Broyld to add some balance to the pass heavy offense. Smith isn't a Montell Harris type that will make you miss. But he's exactly the "up the gut" type of runner that is killing us right now. As I've pretty much said every week: Louisville must fix it's major weakness on defense or this guy could have a big day.

Pitt has two NFL caliber guys at wide receiver and to be honest I thought they would be the best we would see in conference when we played them. Somehow I forgot just how talented Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon were. Sales is neck and neck with Street atop the Big East in yards. He's always open. That's the best way I can describe him. Sales is a really good route runner with good hands. Both he and Lemon have great chemistry with Nassib and they both are capable of making defensive backs look inferior. Lemon is more of a deep threat than Sales but both have kind of become more possession guys this year. Not that they can't both get behind a safety, but the offense seems to have focused more on intermediate routes. Louisville has given up more touchdown passes than any of us would have liked and they absolutely must make Syracuse one dimensional to stop these guys Saturday. Jarrod West could be a wildcard also. The Cards haven't faced an offense with this many weapons since UNC. We all know how quickly they put points on the board in the second half.

KEY PLAYERS: QB Ryan Nassib, RB Jerome Smith, WR Marcus Sales, WR Alec Lemon, LT Justin Pugh

DEFENSE:

Syracuse has done an unbelievable job of making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Tackles for loss is the most important defensive statistic in my opinion. Effecting down and distance is demoralizing as well as being a burden on an offensive coordinator. The Orange are 9th in the country in tackles for loss and are led by a stellar athlete in Brandon Sharpe. Sharpe and company have done a solid job on defense this year, but for whatever reason they really haven't been able to stop anybody. Despite all of the plays in the backfield, they have only gotten to the quarterback 17 times and have only intercepted 5 passes. The defense will need to cause a couple of turnovers to really disrupt Louisville's offense.

Shamarko Thomas is the lifeline of this defense. I honestly expect him to end up earning the first team All-Big East nod over Calvin Pryor because he is both a senior as well as being such a huge part of this defense. Thomas is having a career year and easily leads the team in tackles. The defense brings pressure from all angles and having a guy in the back that can get people lined up and adjust things on the fly is a huge asset.

The Orange have a handful of guys that have stats that will grab your attention but they are really just a run of the mill defense as a whole. Not to sound harsh at all because they could put it together at any time. That's why this is such an easy pick for a "trap" game. Syracuse has the talent to hang with USC. Don't think they won't shock Louisville.

KEY PLAYERS: DE Brandon Sharpe, S Shamarko Thomas, LB Marquis Spruill

Notes:

  • Shamarko Thomas and Brandon Sharpe were both UofL commits at one point.
  • Ashton Broyld was arrested after his last high school basketball game for making an obscene gesture to the opposing fans.
  • Tyson-Prince Gulley has battled his way back after being stabbed last summer.
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