Syracuse will play what is going to be the most important game of their season today as the undefeated Louisville Cardinals head to the Carrier Dome for a noon kickoff on ABC. The Orange enter the game with only one loss left to play with this season in order to play in a bowl game. As of Saturday night, Syracuse is a 1.5 point underdog in this one with a 4-5 record, 3-2 in conference play.
Louisville is without question led by sophomore Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater has put up unbelievable numbers for the Cardinals this season, throwing for 18 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Bridgewater has also thrown for over 2400 yards, with multiple fourth quarter drives that led to his team remaining unbeaten throughout the season. Bridgewater should be able to get his numbers no matter what against a Syracuse defense that has played well at times but has holes. Bridgewater is the best in the conference (and one of the best in the nation) at exploiting weaknesses, and should have a great day in the Carrier Dome. While the Orange absolutely need to put a lot of focus on Bridgewater throughout the game, he is going make plays regardless, so a lot of attention need to be focused on the other offensive components of the Cardinals.
One of those pieces is the Louisville running game. The double-headed monster of juniors Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright have combined for 20 touchdowns on the season for the Cardinals. Having consistently fresh legs will be difficult for this Syracuse defense who have yielded a lot of yards on the ground in the past two weeks, but the Orange defense have proven at certain points this season that they are capable of dominating the line of scrimmage and controlling the run. A great defensive effort on the line of scrimmage is absolutely essential for Syracuse, as it would allow the Orange defense to focus more on the passing game.
Defensively, the Cardinals are led by Safety Calvin Pryor. Pryor has put up 69 tackles this season, and can fly around the football field. Pryor also leads the team with two interceptions, and is a multifaceted player. Up front, sophomore Lorenzo Mauldin leads the team in sacks on the season, and the Cardinals are going to have to get pressure on Ryan Nassib if they do not want to get picked apart through the air. Mauldin is a 6-4, 242 pound defensive end, and the Syracuse offensive line will have their hands full with him.
If Syracuse is going to win this game today, they are going to have to control the run. If the Syracuse defense gets to the point where they need to commit heavily to the run, Bridgewater will use play action and his great decision making to pick apart the secondary up and down the field all game. Bridgewater would be starting for LSU this season had they not backed out of his recruitment, and will without a doubt be the Big East player of the year this season. The Cardinals have two very good backs, so they will always be fresh and running hard against this Syracuse defense. If the Orange can control the line of scrimmage, they will shut down the run and will be able to put their focus on Bridgewater rather than the two backs.
The next thing Syracuse needs to do to win I am about as tired of writing about it as you are reading about it. Syracuse needs to limit penalties like their season depends on it (because it does). If Syracuse commits 10+ penalties again in this game, they have absolutely no chance of overcoming it and winning the game. The Orange really need to put an overemphasis on discipline and playing within themselves. If the team can trust each other, a lot of the holding, offsides, and false start penalties will go away because no player will be trying to do to much. This is by far the most important component to this game, and if the Orange want to put themselves in a position to win they are going to have to improve from last week in this area.
The third and final thing the Orange need to execute well is catching the ball. It sounds simple, but it is something Syracuse has struggled with throughout the season. In games this season off the top of my head, I can remember key drops from David West, Alec Lemon, Marcus Sales, and Beckett Wales that really could have led to different outcomes in various losses this season (specifically off the top of my head Cincinnati, Rutgers, and Minnesota). If the skill players catch the ball, the Orange will put up points on this Louisville defense.
All in all while I think Louisville is very talented, I believe that with their backs against the wall on senior day, Syracuse comes out hot early and hangs on late to win this game to save their season in hopes of making a bowl game.
I will be tweeting from our tailgate and the Dome as long as my Verizon service allows me. Everyone reading this knows how much cell reception can struggle in the Dome, so whenever available you will get live updates.