The Syracuse University football team will be hoping to snap a five game skid this weekend as they take on a Louisville team that’s won four of its last five games, though it should be noted that the 4-1 record achieved to even the season record to 4-4 is slightly misleading. One of those games came against Samford, with the other three wins coming against NC State, Boston College, and Wake Forest.
Obviously, that’s not taking anything away from the fact that Bobby Petrino’s squad got the job done in those games, but when you realize that the Cardinals beat BC and Wake by a combined total of four points, the recent record looks slightly less impressive. Still, this is a Louisville team that should earn a bowl berth regardless of how Saturday’s game shakes out, with games against Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Kentucky looming ahead. This is a Louisville team that has 6-6 written all over it.
Like the Orange, it’s also a team that’s relying an awful lot on youth, particular at the quarterback position. Lamar Jackson is by far the biggest offensive weapon on the Louisville roster, and through eight games he’s accounted for 60% of the team’s offensive production. Specifically, he’s thrown for 1,342 yards but he also leads the team in rushing with 484 yards on the ground. The 6-foot-3, 195 pounder and former 3-star prospect who held offers from the likes of Florida, Florida State, Clemson, Ohio State, and yes, even Syracuse, is one of the top true freshmen signal callers in the nation.
How effectively Syracuse’s defense is able to limit the damage Jackson does will be the key to winning on Saturday. Jackson has hit on 34 of his last 51 pass attempts in narrow wins over BC (17-14) and Wake Forest (20-19) for a total of 437 yards with two touchdowns and two picks in those games, but also noteworthy is that the talented runner has basically been negated on the ground. He totaled just two rushing yards against Wake (a game in which he sat out the final quarter due to ankle soreness), and 15 (on 14 carries) against BC. In the team’s last loss – a 41-21 defeat at Florida State – he threw for 307 yards and rushed for 32 more, though he struggled mightily throwing the ball in a 20-13 win over NC State, completing 10-of-27 passes for 103 yards, though he more than made up for it on the ground, rushing for 121 yards on 19 carries.
Shutting down Jackson will be the key to the game for Syracuse, as Louisville’s second leading rusher, Brandon Radcliff, has 263 yards on 76 carries, an average of just 3.5 yards-per-tote, with three touchdowns. The Cards have 12 rushing touchdowns this season, and Jackson has accounted for half of them. If the Orange are able to take him out of the game, they should be able to find themselves in a solid position to win.
Of course they’ll also be going against a Louisville defense that’s been limiting opponents to 21.8 points-per-game and only 111.6 rushing yards-per-game, and just 309.3 total yards-per-game overall. The Cardinals have picked off 13 passes this season, and recovered five fumbles. It’ll be essential for Syracuse to take care of the ball against a Louisville team that heads into Saturday with the 17th ranked defense in the nation.
Obviously, some of those stats are slightly distorted by playing against banged up, woeful offenses like Boston College and Wake Forest, but the Cardinals will offer one heck of a challenge nonetheless. Syracuse has to win three of its final four games to earn a bowl berth, and with Clemson a little too good to realistically think the Orange can compete, Saturday’s game against Louisville becomes of vital importance. It’s a winnable game, but it all comes down to how effectively the Orange are able to limit Jackson, and how well Eric Dungey and the rest of the offense is able to consistently keep the chains moving on offense.