Despite the comments I uttered to myself on last Saturday evening as the clock hit zeros, the University of Louisville has decided to once again take the field this week. What better way to get off the losing streak than to welcome the Orange of Syracuse who Louisville has handled quite well since joining the ACC, winning six of seven and outscoring the Orange 296-149 over those seven games. Preseason CardinalStrong was very confident in this game, but the last few weeks have muted my enthusiam a bit as Syrcuse is moving in the right direction in the wins columns and Louisville...is not.
To learn more about the 2021 Orange I spoke with John Cassillo from one of my favorite non ‘Card Chronicle’ SB Nation sites, ‘Troy Nunes Is an Absolute Magician’. John gives us a peek beyond the curtain of this years team and how they plan to attack the Cards this week. Let’s get funky.
Don’t look now but a Syracuse team many folks had wrote off early this season is one win away from postseason play and has looked like a pretty solid football team the last few weeks. What’s been the biggest storyline in the transition from afterthought to quality opponent?
As much as this coaching staff deserves some questioning over game management in recent years, one thing they’ve done extremely well is pivoting this offensive scheme around Garrett Shrader’s strengths. While it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Orange since Shrader took over as the starting QB, they’ve seemingly figured something out with his running ability and it’s really tested defenses — who were already dealing with trying to stop Sean Tucker on the ground as it is.
Just like you know what Boeheim is gonna run every time the ball hits the floor, Syracuse is going to pound the run game this year no matter what you bring at them. The Orange lead the ACC in rushing offense this season in terms of yards per game, total yardage, average per run, and touchdowns. How are they attacking defenses with the ground game?
As Louisville fans have probably figured out by now, it’s a two-pronged approach. One of them is handing the ball to Tucker and letting him do his thing. I’d argue he’s been the nation’s top running back this year, especially when considering the line and lack of a passing game. The guy just cuts so well and knows what to do after contact.
The other is Shrader, who’s noted above. He’s not a dual-threat as much as he’s a running quarterback, but Syracuse has still been able to roll him out of the pocket on RPOs and stretched defenses thin as a result. Shrader’s not going to beat you with speed, but he’ll actively hammer defenders as he seeks out contact and size mismatches. The only team that’s truly been able to keep him in check since the offensive game plan adjusted to him is Clemson.
When you think Syracuse football defense isn’t typically the first thing that comes to mind but the Orange are sitting at #1 in the ACC and Top 15 nationally in yards per game allowed. What should the Cards be looking for when they have the ball?
SU’s linebacker play has been excellent, as they’ve grown into the 3-3-5 in year two running the system. Mikel Jones and Stefon Thompson are particularly active, and you’ll find Jones out in coverage just as much as bringing pressure into opposing backfields. The Orange will usually bring a lot of different blitz schemes and disguise pressure, but against Louisville, you may see them staying home more to avoid flushing Malik Cunningham out of the pocket too much. Jones is the most likely spy on the Cards’ QB and he had some decent success reigning in Liberty’s Malik Willis earlier this season (not that I’m betting on the same here).
Big plays are the best way to score on Syracuse, since this team bends but doesn’t break in the red zone (43.75 TD percentage inside the 20 is 12th in the country). If the Orange are in a zone, take the shot downfield since they’re much more susceptible to allowing the big play there than in man coverage.
Because the season is officially underway there is an ACC mandate that requires me to ask a basketball question during any Q&A no matter what sport is being covered. What’s the quick and dirty version of the Orange hoops squad this year?
Syracuse men’s basketball made a lot of changes this offseason, including adding yet another Boeheim, much to America’s chagrin. This year’s squad lacks proven rebounding ability, which could be an issue come ACC play. But until then, they’ll try to bomb opponents out of the gym with a solid group of shooters on the outside. Along with the names you know — Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard — Jimmy Boeheim joins from Cornell and Cole Swider transfers in from Villanova. Jesse Edwards should be the Orange’s first legitimate scoring threat at center in a bit. Offensively, this team will be fun. Defensively, it’s still TBD.
Louisville is honoring Lamar Jackson this week during the game against Syracuse. You remember him? Honest question: are you tired of seeing the leap or is it more of a ‘tip of the cap’ situation on a great play?
I’d pay money to never have to see the leap highlight again. That said, I certainly respect just how great of a player Jackson was in college and continues to be at the NFL level.
Looking at the remaining schedule Syracuse would love to have this win to get bowl eligible as things don’t get easier moving forward. Likewise, Louisville likely needs this win to have a shot at playing football beyond November. Both teams are getting into “full clench” mode at the end of the year and really need this game to help build some momentum. While Cuse stomped a lifeless 2018 Louisville team the Cards have taken 6 of the last 7 contests between the two programs. How do you see this one playing out on Saturday?
Having Lamar back in the building will be an energy jolt for the Cards, but not as much as it would be for a night game. Louisville and Syracuse are actually solid matchups for one another this year, and I think if Cunningham gets cooking on the ground, then I’m very concerned for SU’s chances. That said, Louisville has also lost four of five and the Orange are coming off a bye. I think SU does what’s needed on the ground and that creates some opportunities to throw the ball against a Louisville team struggling to stop opposing passing attacks. It’ll still be very close, though. A late mistake makes all the difference in a 24-20 Syracuse win.
Big thank you to John for his time and insight on these questions. Feel free to give him a follow here and the site a follow here. ‘Nunes Magician’ also reached out to me about this game and things went off the rails quick. You can check that out here.
I feel like this is the week we see signs of life in closing out games and the Cards stick a couple wins together and get postseason eligible before taking on the team down the road. Lets get some positive juice back in the cup this week. Go Cards.