A.J. Long has been starting at quarterback. How has he fared since taking over and what are his strengths and weaknesses?
Long has been inconsistent, which you would expect from a true freshman. In his first two games against Florida State and Wake Forest, he was solid. He displayed an accurate arm, ability to scramble and gave the offense a much needed spark. But again Clemson, he really struggled. He made poor reads, threw backbreaking interceptions and held the ball too long.
His strength is his confidence and ability to be mobile in the pocket. It helps him extend plays and find receivers down field. He is also very accurate on the short passes like bubble screens and slants.
Something he is working on improving is his reading more complex defenses like zone blitzes, cover three, etc. Long also has to limit turnovers, which has been a problem early in his career.
Talk about the rotation Syracuse has at running back. It seems like Prince Tyson-Gulley is the main guy. Have they been pleased with the ground game?
For the most part. The ground game failed them against Louisville, which really hurt the offense’s effectiveness. Gulley has become the main guy since Tim Lester has taken over as offensive coordinator. He is a good between the tackles runner with burst through the hole, but lacks top end speed.
Ervin Philips and Adonis Ameen-Moore are the other two main options. Philips is a true freshman who is more of a scat back type. He is shifty and is often used on jet sweeps. Ameen-Moore is the power back. He is a traditional, downhill, north-south type of back that can move the pile when he gets a head of steam behind him.
George Morris and Devante McFarlane also rotate in at times. Both can do a bit of everything but have not received enough carries to be consistently productive.
The offensive line has been a strength for Syracuse this season. Where are they health-wise?
Simply put, not good. Starting right tackle Ivan Foy has missed the last few games with an injury and is out again this week. Guard Omari Palmer has had to move out to tackle in his absence. Starting guards Rob Trudo and Nick Robinson are both on the injury report this week, with Robinson listed as doubtful and Trudo as questionable.
John Miller, the starting center, just came back from an injury but should be back to full health. If Trudo and/or Robinson can’t go, it really tests their depth in the middle of the offensive line. You may end up seeing redshirt freshman Alex Hayes, who has not seen any meaningful action in his career.
Break down the skill positions... wide receiver and tight end.
The wide receiver position is another one that is suffering from injuries. Two of their top options, Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime will be out this week.
But they have some options to replace them. True freshman Steve Ishmael is the most explosive of the group, and is leading the team in yards per reception. He emerged against Wake Forest and Florida State as arguably their top option.
Senior Jarrod West leads the team in receptions and is a quality possession type. He also has a solid frame to do some damage in the red zone, but has average at best speed.
Other options include Ben Lewis, Sean Avant, Alvin Cornelius and Adrian Flemming. Lewis is the only real consistent threat here, though Cornelius is a strong blocker.
At tight end, Syracuse’s top option is Josh Parris. He has not been overly involved with the offense this season to date, but is an athletic option that could see more targets because of the lack of health at receiver.
Syracuse's defense has done fairly well this season. Do they blitz a lot or try to get pressure with four?
They blitz a ton. They may blitz more than any other defense in the country, but certainly in the ACC. They move their linebackers all over the formation and blitz from different areas. Sometimes they overload one side of the formation, sometimes they bring guys from multiple areas.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough loves to bring pressure as much as possible, and not just on passing plays. They run blitz quite a bit as well. Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch are the two linebackers to watch here.
Also don’t be surprised if you see a corner blitz from time to time.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the defense?
Their biggest strength is creating negative plays. That means tackles for loss or sacks from the pressure previously mentioned or creating turnovers. Syracuse has had games where they’ve forced four turnovers (against Clemson) and five (against Notre Dame).
Their biggest weakness has been giving up the big play through the air. Though they have been much better at that in recent weeks.
Thoughts on special teams?
The special teams have really solidified for Syracuse. Since freshman walk-on Cole Murphy has taken over at kicker, he has gone 11-13 and shown accuracy and power.
Punter Riley Dixon is in the discussion for the best in the conference, and the coverage units have been solid. What Syracuse does not have is a dynamic returner. Their kickoff returns have been below average all season.
How do you believe Syracuse is approaching this game strategically on both sides of the ball?
Offensively, I expect Syracuse to run the ball quite a bit. Especially with the lack of health at receiver, they will rely on their ground attack to control the line of scrimmage, control time of possession and set up the pass with play-action.
Defensively, Syracuse will do what they always do. Pressure, pressure and more pressure. Syracuse will blitz early and often, trying to force N.C. State into mistakes and get the ball back to the offense in favorable field position. Syracuse will play primarily man coverage in the secondary and will attack the Wolfpack offense with a variety of looks in the front seven.
Finally, how do you see this game playing out?
This game is pretty evenly matched, but Syracuse seems to be playing a bit better of late despite losing five of their last six. The Orange defense is playing at a very high level right now and should pose some problems for N.C. State. I expect Brissett to make some plays because Syracuse does have a tendency to struggle with mobile quarterbacks.
Ultimately, the ability for Syracuse to run the ball will be critical. Behind a home crowd in a desperation game for Syracuse, I expect that to be the difference in an otherwise even matchup. I have the Orange winning this one in the Carrier Dome.