LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (4-4, 3-2) vs. SYRACUSE ORANGE (3-5, 1-3)
Game Time: 12:30 p.m.
Card March Time: 10:15 a.m.
Location: Papa John's Cardinal Stadium: Louisville, Ky.
Television: ACC Network/WAVE-3
Announcers: Tom Werme (Play-by-Play), Renaldo Wynn (Analyst) and Niki Noto (Sideline)
Favorite: Louisville by 13.5
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 7-6
Last Meeting: Louisville won 28-6 at Syracuse last season
Injuries have forced the Orange to turn to a freshman quarterback this year and they might be better off because of it. Eric Dungey came in after Terell Hunt went down with an injury and he's proven to be a talent that this young team can build around. Dungey is a dual-threat guy that won't blow by everyone on the defense but will get you chunk yardage if he finds a seam. What really impresses me with Dungey is his passing ability. He has the arm strength to get the ball deep down the field and he also has the accuracy to make plays on run. Dungey has struggled with turnovers with three interceptions and seven fumbles, four of which were lost. He will have to be aware of the rush this week with Travon Young playing so well coming off the edge.
The Orange feature another true freshman at running back in Jordan Fredricks. Fredricks is a smaller back that is super quick through the hole and finishes runs very well. In all honesty he reminds me of the 2014 version of Brandon Radcliff. When he gets the handoff it's like he's been shot out of a cannon. He hasn't hit a lot of big runs but he is averaging over five yards per carry on the season. I wouldn't say that he is a guy that could have a monster day like some of the guys we've seen over the last year, but he can definitely keep their offense balanced. George Morris is the primary backup for Fredricks but they rotate a handful of guys in different ways that have been pretty productive.
While Syracuse doesn't have outstanding receivers, they do have two players outside that can make a lot of big plays. Steve Ishmael and Brisly Estime are both averaging over fifteen yards per catch with Estime putting up nearly seventeen yards each time he catches the ball. Ishmael was a pleasant surprise for the Orange last year as a true freshman and he's taken pretty well to his move as the number one receiver for this team. He's a tall guy that can run the entire route tree and make big plays. He is easily one of the best receivers Louisville has seen so far this year. Estime and slot receiver/running back Ervin Phillips are smaller guys that can make guys miss in the open field and break a big play. Estime is also second in the nation in punt return average. He's a guy you have to bring down as soon as he touches it.
The offensive line for Syracuse is the only area on the team that has multiple veteran players. They've done well with run blocking as well as protecting the quarterback. Syracuse switched their offensive system in the middle of the season last year and the line has done well to adjust to it. There are times when you see some of the guys struggle to get out into space on option plays and screens but those plays work well for Cuse and the line is a major part of that. Ivan Foy is the top player in this group and it will be very interesting to see how he handles the speed of Trevon young. Young moves around, but I would imagine that Syracuse will give their right tackle some help as he struggleswith speed and had a rough game last week against DeMarcus Walker. If that happens, Todd Grantham might look to move Young to the right side on passing downs to give him a one-on-one matchup.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Eric Dungey, RB Jordan Fredricks, WR Brisly Estime, WR Steve Ishmael, LT Ivan Foy
Louisville will again face one of the best pass rushers in the ACC in right end Ron Thompson. Thompson is a 255-pound speed rusher that can also use power if he sees the tackle on his heels. He's pretty much the type of player that gives young offensive linemen the most trouble. Louisville is still last in the country in sacks allowed, but they haven't done a terrible job against edge rushers. Most of their trouble has been with blitzers coming free through the middle. They've had some trouble with defensive tackles but Cuse doesn't have players in the middle that really rush the passer that well. Syracuse has also struggled to plug runs between the tackles. They've given up over 200 yards rushing three times in their last six games. With Louisville's struggles running the ball, the Orange have to find a way to stop that trend.
The second level of Cuse's defense is a very solid group with Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett accounting for about 20% of the team's total tackles. It seems like every week Louisville goes up against a group of linebackers that excel at making penetration plays and blitzing. This week will be no different. Fanklin has seven tackles for loss on the season while Bennett can run like a safety. Strongside linebacker Marquez Hodge is also a solid player. This groups biggest issue this season has been being caught out of position. UofL's misdirection plays in the running game could cause some issues this weekend.
The back end of Syracuse's defense is performing at a level that is among the worst in the nation. Syracuse allows opposing quarterbacks to complete 66% of their passes. They're allowing 8.2 yards per attempt. They've given up 11 touchdown passes. And, they're at their worst on third and ten yards to go or more. They're a team with a solid pass rush. It's not great but it's better than some other teams that play much better against the pass. Syracuse has shuffled some guys around this season but Louisville will likely see Cordell Hudson and Corey Winfield at corner this weekend. Winfield is best known as the guy that got stiff-armed like a child by Travis Rudolph last Saturday. Hudson is a freshman who should be the targeted player this week. There's a big dropoff between the two and Louisville should try to take advantage of that.
The safeties for Syracuse are very good in run support. Antwan Cordy has nine tackles for loss this year and he loves to fly upfield on outside run plays. He's one of the most impressive players I've seen this year when it comes to flying to the football and making plays in general. What he, and free safety Chauncey Scissum, have been really bad at is keeping the last man in front of them. Syracue has allowed a ton of deep pass plays and last week it totally killed them. Play action passes have been very effective because both safeties like to come up and make plays in the run game. That leaves them susceptible to a receiver getting behind them as their corners pass off receivers outside of their zone. Louisville has lived on chunk plays as well as timely deep passes. They haven't been able to do it consistently this year and they've struggled to even get as many attempts down the field as they should. This secondary provides them with a much better chance at being successful.
KEY PLAYERS: DE Ron Thompson, MLB Zaire Franklin, WLB Parris Bennett, SS Antwan Cordy
Excitement Level: 7.3
Good to have the fellas back home and we should be clear of rain this go-round.
Pregame Meal: Breakfast food, beer
Officially the pregame meal of 2015 Louisville football home games.
Game Attire: Jeans, black U of L pullover, red Louisville Titleist hat
Riding the hot combination to a third straight win. Or at least that's the plan.
Bold Prediction: Two different Louisville players throw touchdown passes
I'm not even saying two Louisville quarterbacks. When the bold predictions are slumping you have to keep your options open. Saying exactly two passes would be intercepted last week (no more, no less) proved to be an error in judgment.
Predicted Star of the Game: Jamari Staples
Yeah I'm doubling down here.
In case you needed a review of the last three predicted stars of the game: James Quick (three touchdowns against FSU), Sheldon Rankins (fumble return for a TD against Boston College), and then Jamari Staples Part I (two touchdowns against Wake). Year of the Predicted Star of the Game.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Light Venetian Red (Moderate)
I've got a better feeling about this than the alert system. Again, I don't control the alert level system, I just report its status.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
I respect the outfits. I don't respect bringing Louie into this.
--Louisville is 26-2 over the last three seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The only two losses came last year at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--Each of Louisville's last five wins over FBS opponents have come by 7 points of fewer.
--Syracuse has scored five non-offensive touchdowns, which leads the Atlantic Coast Conference. It marks the most non offensive touchdowns that Syracuse has scored in a single season since 1997.
--Louisville has won 11 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, and has lost seven of its last 10 when receiving the opening kickoff, including three of four games this season.
--Syracuse's Brisly Estime ranks second in the nation in punt return yardage. He has returned two punts for touchdowns.
--Louisville has won seven consecutive games played in the month of November, the second-longest such streak in program history.
--A Louisville victory would make Bobby Petrino the second-winningest coach in Cardinal football history. Petrino is currently tied for second with Howard Schnellenberger at 54 career wins.
--Louisville will honor Elvis Dumervil's No. 58 jersey during the first quarter of Saturday's game. It will be the 20th time a Cardinal player's jersey has been honored.
--Louisville has allowed opponents to reach the red zone just 15 times in eight games, ranking the Cardinals in a tie with Wisconsin for second nationally in terms of fewest red-zone chance. Only Michigan (12) has allowed fewer red-zone trips.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 194 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
--Louisville is 166-9 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-100 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"We are not consistent at all, and we have to quit hurting ourselves. We continue to hurt ourselves with negative plays or penalties, and when you are moving backwards all the time, it puts a lot of pressure on you. If you can go through a game and always go forward on every situation, then you have a chance to be consistent. We are starting to get more explosive plays, more chunk plays down the field, and that should help us score more points." --Bobby Petrino
--"They've just got it rolling, and they're just playing. We're hoping to do the same." --Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey
--"They're really talented up front and on the edges. Their defensive ends are really fast and they're really strong in the middle. And they fly around. They play fast. It'll be a challenge for sure." --Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer
--"The crowd will be juiced up and we look forward to be at home." --L.J. Scott
--"We want to make a bowl game really bad. Not only for us, but for our community. We have to step it up and crack the whip." --Syracuse freshman tailback Jordan Fredericks
--"If you watch their film and look at their personnel, they have a real fast defense. They are young in the secondary so they have missed some tackles that has caused some big plays. They have some good pass rushers off the edge. We have a lot of respect for Zaire Franklin their middle linebacker. He sets the defense and gets them lined up." --Garrick McGee
--"We've got to get a win." --Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey
--"We always feel like we're going to get better and we're going to start moving the ball. We had some games last year where we struggled, and we played really well on offense in the month of November. We're going to go with that one - that we're going to come out and play well in the month of November." --Bobby Petrino
--"You don't get ranked 16th in total defense for nothing. It will be a challenge for sure." --Syracuse offensive coordinator Tim Lester
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 23, Syracuse 17