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Preview: FSU vs. Syracuse

The old football adage is that the next game is the most important game. That is certainly true for FSU as it prepares for its game Saturday against Syracuse with the Seminoles still looking for their first win of the 2021 season. FSU (0-4) will play host to the Orange (3-1) on Saturday afternoon in Doak Campbell Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised by the ACC Network. Chris Cotter will handle the play-by-play duties and will be joined by football analyst and former Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich.

Syracuse in 2021

Syracuse 29, Ohio 9

Syracuse 7, Rutgers 17

Syracuse 62, Albany 24

Syracuse 24, Liberty 21

The Numbers Game

Syracuse Total Offense- 392 YPG (73rd in NCAA) vs FSU Total Defense- 415 YPG (94th in NCAA)

Syracuse Rushing Offense- 216 YPG (21st) vs FSU Rushing Defense- 132.2 YPG (57th)

Syracuse Passing Offense- 176 YPG (108th) vs FSU Passing Defense- 282.2 YPG (116th)

Syracuse Scoring Offense- 30.5 PPG (61st) vs FSU Scoring Defense- 31.8 PPG (106th)

Syracuse Third-Down Offense- 36.2% (87th) vs FSU Third-Down Defense- 44.9% (103th)

Syracuse Sacks Allowed- 8 (67th) vs FSU Sacks Made- 13 (17th)

Syracuse Run Plays Over 10 yards- 29 (16th) vs FSU Runs Allowed Over 10 yards- 15 (43rd)

Syracuse Pass Plays Over 20 yards- 7 (114th) vs FSU Passes Allowed Over 20 yards- 17 (112th)

FSU Total Offense- 386.3 YPG (77th) vs Syracuse Total Defense- 261.2 YPG (10th)

FSU Rushing Offense- 190 YPG (42nd) vs Syracuse Rush Defense- 85.2 YPG (19th)

FSU Passing Offense- 196.3 YPG (96th) vs Syracuse Pass Defense- 178 YPG (28th)

FSU Scoring Offense- 23 PPG (102nd) vs Syracuse Scoring Defense- 17.8 PPG (28th)

FSU Third-Down Offense- 34.6% (100th) vs Syracuse Third-Down Defense- 32.1% (35th)

FSU Sacks Allowed- 15 (117th) vs Syracuse Sacks Made- 18th (1st)

FSU Run Plays Over 10 yards- 26 (30th) vs Syracuse Runs Allowed Over 10 yards- 9 (14th)

FSU Pass Plays Over 20 Yards- 10 (93rd) vs Syracuse Passes Allowed Over 20 yards- 13 (76th)

Coaches Corner

Head coach Dino Babers is in his sixth season leading the Orange, where has compiled a 27-37 overall record. He is 1-3 against FSU. Babers’ career record as a head coach, including his stints at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois, is 64-53.

Sterlin Gilbert took over as the Syracuse offensive coordinator in the offseason. He was the team’s quarterback coach last season. Gilbert was the head coach at McNeese State in 2019. Before that he was the offensive coordinator at USF, Texas, Tulsa, Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois.

Tony White is in his second season as the Orange defensive coordinator. Prior to joining the Syracuse staff he spent two seasons coaching cornerbacks at Arizona State and 10 seasons as an assistant for Rocky Long at San Diego State and New Mexico.

Syracuse on Offense

Syracuse runs their base offense out of an 11-personnel grouping (one running back and one tight end) and will line up in 10-personnel (one running back and no tight ends) as well. In the run game you will see variations of the zone play with RPOs built in: zone read, inside zone, divide zone, wham zone. In the passing game they will take some shots downfield but they have been very successful in the screen game.

Like FSU, Syracuse’s spread offense has been led by two starting quarterbacks this season. Sophomore Garrett Shrader (6-4, 230) took over the starting role last week in the Orange’s win over Liberty and he is expected to start on Saturday against FSU. It was his first start for Syracuse after transferring from Mississippi State after the 2020 season. Shrader started four games for the Bulldogs in 2019 and played in 10 games that season. This season he has thrown for 317 yards while completing 22 of 37 passes with one interception and one touchdown, playing in all four games. His backup is veteran signal caller Tommy Devito (6-2, 215), who has 18 career starts. The redshirt junior started the Orange’s first three games this season and has thrown for 388 yards while completing 32 of 52 passes with two interceptions and one touchdown.

The difference-maker on Syracuse’s offense is freshman running back Sean Tucker (5-10, 210), whose 536 rushing yards rank second nationally. Tucker is a strong runner and has great balance. He has scored seven touchdowns already this season and his averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Tucker has accounted for 62 percent of the Orange’s rushing offense and there hasn’t been a lot of production behind him. Shrader (97 yards) and Devito (90) are the team’s second- and third-leading rushers so far this season. Last season Tucker ran 626 yards as a true freshman, which ranks third in program history in rushing yards by a freshman.

Syracuse hasn’t been very productive throwing the ball this season. Wide receiver Taj Harris leads in the team in catches with 16 and is second on the team with 171 receiving yards. Tucker leads the team with 195 receiving yard, is second on the team with nine receptions and leads the team in yards per reception (19.4). The Orange have spread the ball around though. Syracuse has 12 other players who have caught at least one pass this season but no one player in that group has more than five catches.

Syracuse’s offensive line might not be the best FSU has faced this season but it might be the most experienced. Center Airon Servais (6-6, 300) has started 52 straight games. Right tackle Carlos Vettorello (6-4, 295) has started 27 consecutive games and left tackle Matthew Bergeron has 20 consecutive starts.

Syracuse on Defense

The Orange line up in a base 3-3-5 alignment on defense and feature nine players with at least 10 career starts.

Senior defensive end Cody Roscoe (6-1, 275) might be listed as a backup on the depth chart but he is the team’s most productive player on defense. He has 21 tackles on the season, which ranks second on the team, and has been a constant presence in opposing backfields. His eight tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks are team highs. He splits time with senior Josh Black (6-3, 290), who has 14 stops, 3.5 TFLs and half a sack. Black has started 31 games in his career, including the last 28 games.

Linebacker Mikel Jones (6-1, 220) leads the team in tackles with 38. The sophomore is second on the team with 6.5 TFLs and has also recorded two sacks. Freshman linebacker Stefon Thompson (6-1, 235) ranks third on the team with 20 tackles and has also recorded 2.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks this season.

The young Orange secondary features three starters who have started 11 or more games but are still very young. Cornerback Garrett Williams (6-0, 190) is the most experienced with 14 career starts despite being just a second-year freshman. Last year Williams was named to The Athletic’s Freshmen All-American team. He is tied for seventh on the team with 14 tackles. True freshman cornerback Duce Chestnut (6-0, 185) is fourth on the team with 19 stops and also has one interception this season. Sophomore Jason Simmons (6-0, 195) has been the most productive of the team’s safeties having totaled 15 tackles through his first four starts.

Syracuse Special Teams

Junior Andre Szmyt (6-1, 210) returns as the place-kicker. He is 5 of 7 this season with a long field goal of 48 yards. Szmyt has made all three of his attempts from 20-29 yards, is 1 of 1 from 30-39 yards and 1 of 3 from 40 yards and beyond.

Freshman James Williams (6-1, 215) has handled the vast majority of the punting duties this season. He punted the ball 17 times so far this season and is averaging 36.5 yards per attempt. Two of his punts have resulted in fair catches, four have resulted in opponents starting their next possession inside their own 20-yard line.