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Key Matchups: Syracuse

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Louisville finally had a strong defensive performance. Can they do it again?

NCAA Football: Louisville at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

ERIC DUNGEY VS. HIMSELF

I tend to root for the underdog. So when Syracuse found a freshman quarterback that could run and throw the ball and played with a toughness and competitiveness that you love to see in a quarterback, I was excited for them. That was two years ago and Eric Dungey is still the same player that he was then. His freshman season was up there with Lamar Jackson’s. But Dungey got injured and that’s been a trend throughout his career. Three years later and he still doesn’t protect himself like the most important player on the team should.

He also doesn’t value the football. Dungey doesn’t fumble much but he throws the ball down the field as if he gets a mulligan if it gets picked off. For the third straight year his number of interceptions has gone up. I watched the last five interceptions he threw and all five of them were thrown without reading the coverage. All five were avoidable and Syracuse lost both of the games by one score. Dungey needs to play with an understanding of his importance. The vast majority of the time it seems like he plays like a cat with nine lives. As if mistakes won’t matter. They’ve lost 5 games this year where one mistake could be the sole reason that they lost at all. They’ve lost those games by a touchdown on average and no more than 9 points in any game. Syracuse isn’t better off without Dungey, but there are plenty of times when he is the reason that they can’t pull off a win.

STEVE ISHMAEL VS. JAIRE ALEXANDER

It’s been a down year for good matchups in the passing game for Louisville. Jaire Alexander is finally healthy and he gets to go up against the most productive receiver in the country this weekend. The ACC is down this year when it comes to big time wide receivers but Steve Ishmael is the real deal. He can run any route that’s asked and he is a veteran player that knows how to use his body to shield the ball from defenders and gain separation.

I’m genuinely excited for this matchup because I would love for Jaire to be able to make a big play or two to show fans what they’ve missed out on this season. Alexander is one of the best defensive players Louisville has had over the last handful of years and this was supposed to be the season where he garnered all of the accolades that come with that. Instead he’s battled injuries and hasn’t been at 100% when he’s been out there. Alexander should have an opportunity to make some plays against a receiver who averages about 14 targets a game.

LOUISVILLE’S PASS RUSH VS. SYRACUSE’S OFFENSIVE LINE

Louisville was finally able to fulfill the plan of Peter Sirmon’s scheme last week against Virginia. Sirmon wants to bring pressure with his front four and congest the passing windows. James Hearns was able to get to the quarterback 3 times and he forced a fumble each time. Jaire Alexander and Trumaine Washington combined for 4 pass breakups also. Dee Smith got an interception off of a tipped pass that was high because the underneath coverage closed the window. These are all things that a product of a scheme that hasn’t worked very much this yer. But it finally came through and we got to see what it’s supposed to look like.

The question of course is can it work against a Syracuse offense that is markedly better than Virginia’s? Syracuse has a young offensive line that does pretty well on the outsides but struggles with pressure up the middle. They also have a quarterback that can escape pressure and has designed runs called regularly that take advantage of aggressive up field pass rushers. Henry Famurewa was credited with 3 qb hurries last week and he could be a big key in this game if he can get pressure in Dungey’s face. Hearns might not have the same success that he had last week but the other guys on the line have to step up and provide that pressure. That causes a chain reaction for the defense where secondary players can make a play on a rushed pass.