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Syracuse Could Be The Perfect Opponent At The Perfect Time For Louisville

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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

We know now that Reggie Bonnafon will be making his second consecutive start at quarterback when Louisville squares off against Syracuse this Friday night. Even if Will Gardner is healthy enough to be available, If Bonnafon were able to get the Cardinal offense to finally click, it's likely that the true freshman would earn himself the full-time job.

But how likely is that to happen? Cardinal fans have been waiting to see significant signs of life from the offense since the Virginia loss, and their hopes have been met with a pair of performances that could most accurately be characterized as concerning and frustrating.

Syracuse will welcome Louisville to the Carrier Dome with a top 50 defense that ranks in the nation's top 20 in sacks. On the surface, this isn't an ideal scenario for a U of L offense whose primary issue has been its offensive line's inability to protect whomever has been under center.

Still, looking at some of the research notes from the Orange's loss to Notre Dame last week reveals a couple of items that lead me to believe this could be the perfect opportunity for Bonnafon, the O-line and the rest of the offense to break out of this slump.

For example:

--Syracuse brought five or more pass rushers on 16 of Notre Dame QB Everett Golson's 25 passing attempts, but could not put him under duress on any of those attempts. Golson wound up throwing for a career-high 362 yards and completed 25 straight passes at one point. 

--Eleven of Golson's 25 attempts during his record streak of passes without an incompletion were screen passes, and he threw one touchdown on such a pass. Overall, Notre Dame ran 18 screen passes, 17 of which were completed. The only incompletion on a screen pass was the one that broke up his streak. Golson's 17 completions on screen passes are the most among Power Five quarterbacks in a game since the start of last season. 

--Golson's average pass distance was 5.3 yards past the line of scrimmage during the streak, almost five yards per attempt shorter than his career average (10.1). 

--Golson attempted just three passes that traveled more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, including 49 yards on his second touchdown pass to William Fuller.

--Syracuse has sent five or more pass rushers on 55 percent of its opponents' dropbacks this season, the second-highest percentage among Power Five teams behind Virginia Tech (66%). The Orange have recorded 10 of their 12 sacks when blitzing.

So what does this tell us? Well, Syracuse is going to bring a significant amount of pressure, but it should be manageable so long as Bonnafon and company can simply execute in the short passing game. It's an area where Reggie has had far more success than Will so far this season, which leads me to believe he would have likely been the starter this week even if Gardner were 100 percent ready to go.

Sloppiness has been Louisville's biggest offensive enemy through five games, more so than the play of any individual or individual unit. If Bonnafon makes the right reads and checks, if his receivers and running backs are in the right place, and if everyone can make and hold their blocks for just the shortest amount of time, U of L ought to be able to move the ball with some success on Friday. Bonnafon doesn't have to be Peyton Manning to put up points and lead the Cardinals to a much-needed win, he just has to be able to recognize what the defense is giving him, and take it.

This is the perfect test at the perfect time of the season for the Cardinal offense. If the unit can muster the discipline to execute against a defense that is basically going to dare them to pick up four or five yards on every play, then that bodes extremely well for the rest of the season. If they can't, well, then I suppose we'll cross that rickety bridge when we get there.