Wake Forest returns back to BB&T Field after playing two straight games on the road. The Demon Deacons (4-1, 1-1) are coming off a 33-16 loss to NC State, and will be taking on the Syracuse Orange (2-3, 0-1), who is coming off a 50-33 loss to Notre Dame. What will happen when the teams square off in Winston-Salem on Saturday night?
Wake Forest on Offense
Wake’s offense must show up on Saturday night, because the Deacs are probably going to need to score at least 24 points in order to win this one. Fortunately, Syracuse’s defense has resembled swiss cheese in a lot of games this season. In their 4 games against FBS opponents, they’ve give up 62, 45, 24, and 50 points. To be fair, they’ve played very good offensive teams in Louisville, South Florida, and Notre Dame, but giving up 24 points to Connecticut should be concerning to Syracuse fans. That puts them 109th in the defensive S&P+ ratings.
Syracuse’s struggle defensively can largely be attributed to its poor run defense. Their weak rush defense starts up front on the defensive line, which is extremely young. Both starting defensive ends are true freshmen, and the defensive tackles are both sophomores, though one is a redshirt sophomore. This should allow Wake Forest’s offensive line to create gaps and allow the backs to get to the second level. The Deacs should be able to have consistent rushing success, as well as break a few for chunk yards.
The Orange have also given up a lot of big pass plays, and they are 125th nationally in passing IsoPPP, which is a measure of explosive plays allowed. Syracuse returned its top 6 leading tackles from last year’s secondary, but have been hit with difficult injuries, as safety Antwan Cordy and cornerback Juwan Dowels are both out for the season after sustaining injuries against Louisville. Wake hasn’t been extremely successful moving the ball through the air this season, but should be able to successfully utilize some underneath routes to exploit the secondary.
Wake Forest on Defense
Syracuse is a legitimate threat on this side of the ball. Head coach Dino Babers has brought his spread and up-tempo offense to Syracuse, and they’ve been successful at implementing that system thus far. They have the 33rd best offense in the country according to S&P+ ratings, and they mostly do this through the air.
Eric Dungey is a talented sophomore quarterback, and the Orange will have the advantage at quarterback in this one. He has been very efficient so far this season, and has completed 64% of his passes for 1,730 yards, 11 touchdowns, and just 3 interceptions. He will also look to run the ball, and he has 5 rushing touchdowns this year.
His primary target is Amba Etta-Tawo, who is putting up stupid numbers this season. He’s putting up numbers that you can’t even get if you play NCAA Football and Junior Varsity and then adjust the sliders. Through 5 games, he already has 840 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s one of just 5 players in the country who has 600 receiving yards. He will absolutely test Wake’s secondary, and Brad Watson and Amari Henderson have to have their best games of the season.
Wake Forest should have a definitive advantage in the trenches. Syracuse’s offensive line has been very bad at providing enough leverage to create holes for backs to use. As a result, they have one of the worst rushing attacks in the country. The offensive line does have good numbers in terms of sacks allowed, but this can mostly be attributed to Dungey getting rid of the ball quickly. What’s worse for Syracuse is that they will be without three starters against Wake, so Duke Ejiofor better feast against Cuse. Etta-Tawo runs a lot of vertical routes, so if Ejiofor and other pass rushers can get to Dungey quickly, that reduces the great threat of Etta-Tawo.
Wake is going to be in for a challenge on Saturday night. I believe it’s critical to establish the run offensively, to give the Wake defense adequate time to rest. It will also be critical to have the appropriate personnel on defense. Syracuse will take advantage if they get any linebacker on slot receiver matchups. I’ll take the Deacs to find a way to score enough points to win this one 27-24.