The Syracuse Orange travel to Piscataway tomorrow for a Big East showdown in what is absolutely a must win game for the Orange as they look to get back to a .500 record and establish themselves as a Big East title contender. This will be no easy task, with the Scarlet Knights entering the game in the top 20 with an undefeated record at 5-0. Both teams are coming off of home victories, with Syracuse coming off a win against Pittsburgh while the Scarlet Knights defeated Connecticut. Doug Marrone is expecting a big crowd, and that he hopes to have his team ready to go come game time:
“I think it will be an outstanding crowd,” Marrone said. “I think when you go away and you see that, you have a better sense of you expectation of exactly what it is. It’s very hard. You can’t simulate that for a football team. Our players understand the situation that we are going into. Our focus is to make sure that we can play well. It’s my responsibility to make sure we go out there on Saturday and put our players in a position to have an opportunity to win a game.”
Last season Syracuse really let this game get away in the Dome. Syracuse controlled the entire game, before making careless mistakes on their own end of the field, resulting in a fumble in overtime and a loss for the Orange.
Linebacker Khaseem Greene comes back after leading the team in tackles last season, and has picked up right where he left off leading the Scarlet Knights on defense again this season. Leading rusher from last season Jawan Jamison returns as well, and the Orange are going to have to slow him down in order to find success on defense. Last season, the Orange held Jamison to just 48 yards rushing on 24 attempts. This year however, Jamison is the leading rusher in the conference thus far with a 120 yards per game average. On the passing front, the Orange are facing Gary Nova, who split time last season against the Orange in the Dome. Nova went 14 of 24 for 122 yards and a touchdown. Nova held the ball a lot as well however, as he was sacked four times in the game.
The key to this game for Syracuse is to minimize their mistakes. Last season, interceptions were thrown in the opponent’s end zone, along with fumbles inside Syracuse’s own 20 yard line absolutely plagued the Orange, so if Syracuse is going to win this game they are going to have to minimize the crucial mistakes. Rutgers gives up the fewest points per game of any team in the conference, but Syracuse has the leading passing attack. If Ryan Nassib can protect the ball in the red zone, the Orange should be able to surpass that point total and then some against the Scarlet Knights. While efficiency numbers are only mid-level for Syracuse, that is the case because Syracuse has been playing from behind in 3 of their 4 games this season. If the Orange can keep themselves out of a hole and run their offense, they will absolutely move the ball against Rutgers. The Orange lead the Big East in first downs, so it is absolutely critical to protect the ball inside the 20 and to punch the ball in for scores. Having all-conference left tackle Justin Pugh back absolutely will help the offensive line on the goal line, as the Orange took advantage of him for their only offensive touchdown last week against Pittsburgh.
Another key for Syracuse is to pressure Gary Nova. Rutgers has allowed the most sacks in the Big East in what is considered by many to be a less than impressive conference slate to date, and Syracuse is second in the conference in sacks on an out of conference schedule that is considered to be one of the best in the nation. Brandon Sharpe is going to have to continue to play huge for the Orange, coming off of a week where he received national defensive honors with his four sacks against Pittsburgh. If they can pressure Nova and contain the running game, they should be in a good position for a victory.
The spread for the game is Rutgers -7. From the outside perspective, this is surprisingly close considering it is an undefeated top 20 football team playing a 2-3 team. Traditionally, the home team automatically gets 3 points for being at home, meaning a neutral field game would have Rutgers as only a 4 point favorite in this one. This can directly be attributed to the Scarlet Knights weak schedule to date, and this should absolutely be a great game that either team has a chance to win.
Stay tuned tomorrow as I’ll be tweeting like a madman on my trip down to Piscataway. It is a 4 and 1/2 hour drive, so I’ll need someone to entertain me on the way. Follow me on Twitter here, and check back for a live twitter feed full of pictures and videos in enemy territory down at Rutgers tomorrow!