Syracuse at Tulane: What to expect

After such a letdown last week in the Big East opener against Rutgers, Syracuse gets to travel to a Conference-USA school to try and rebound heading into the bye week.

The Tulane Green Wave is in a state of flux right now, sporting a 2-3 record and less-than-spectacular numbers in nearly every stat category. Coach Bob Toledo told the media after the team's 45-6 loss to Army last week that the coaching job in 2011 has been the hardest he has ever had "in a lot of different ways." Toledo has been a head coach for the last 18 years, and he is in his fifth campaign at Tulane.

With a coach and a program in need of a win to begin a three-game homestand, the Green Wave will be desperate to defeat the Orange.

Tulane's offense

The Wave run a multiple-set offense that flirts between pro-style and spread depending on the situation. Toledo maintains that it is similar to SU's attack, and like the Orange, it ranks just inside the top 100 in total offense. Also similar is the experience at quarterback and reliance on the lead running back. Junior quarterback Ryan Griffin has played in 25 games and started the last 16 for Tulane. He is an up-and-down passer that does not have a particularly strong arm and he has averaged less than 150 yards passing over his last two efforts. At tailback, sophomore Orleans Darkwa is as dangerous as it gets although the team will spell him with Albert Williams and Robert Kelley. He nearly ran for 1,000 yards as a true freshman last season and he again averages better than 4 yards per carry this season to go along with four touchdowns. Darkwa's ability to make something out of nothing as both a runner and receiver is a major concern for a Syracuse defense that missed its fair share of tackles last week.

On the outside, there is some solid size, but the Green Wave lacks a big-time receiver like the threats SU has dealt with over the last three weeks. Senior Joe Kemp leads the team with 20 grabs, but the possession receiver has just one score on the year. He used to play running back, so he has solid moves after the catch as well. After Kemp and Darkwa out of the backfield, no player on the roster has more than 10 catches. The team has suffered several injuries to the WR corps, and walk-ons have moved up the depth chart to the point that they are almost certain to see action on Saturday.

Up front, Tulane allows more than two sacks per game and the offensive line clears enough holes for the backs to average 125 yards per game on the ground. The average group is the weakest unit the SU defense has seen since the Rhode Island game last month, though the unit is comprised entirely with juniors and seniors.

The Green Wave defense

The Tulane defense -- which ranks 74th in the country -- is similar to that of Toledo, an undersized yet attacking unit that will give up yards and points in exchange for turnovers. They make the most of interceptions especially, considering they have returned three picks for scores in just five games. The defensive line is not a standout group. Book-ends Dezan Moses and Austen Jacks have combined for 4 ½ sacks, and defensive tackle Julius Warmsley leads the team with three on the year. The 10 combined sacks by the defense rank third in Conference-USA.

The line-backing group is led by MLB Trent Mackey, who leads the team and ranks 11th in the Nation with 11 tackles per game. He also has a pick-six on his resume thus far. Matthew Bailey and Darryl Farley flank him in the starting lineup, and they have combined for 39 stops.

The defensive backfield for the Green Wave is a veteran group, starting with the trio of juniors. Cornerbacks Ryan Travis and Jordan Sullen, who are also team captains, are the unit's play-makers. Travis has two interceptions to lead the team along with nickel-back Derrick Strozier. At free safety, junior Shakiel Smith is the team's second-leading tackler and he starts alongside freshman Sam Scofield who at strong safety, is coming off of his first double-digit tackle game. The group will gamble for interceptions, but the safeties are solid tacklers.

Matchups

The Syracuse offense should be able to get on track starting with the running game, considering Tulane gives up nearly 170 yards per game on the ground. The offensive line should be able to create lanes for Antwon Bailey and the reserve committee of Jerome Smith, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Steven Rene. Expect the run to set up some easy throws for Ryab Nassib, who looks to get back on track after his worst game of the season. He will need a playmaker to emerge on the outside though, and coach Doug Marrone echoed that statement during the week by hinting at an "open audition" for younger players to step up on the outside.

Even though the SU offense should be able to move down the field, protecting the ball and finishing drives will be crucial against a turnover-driven unit. Bailey will hold onto the ball after last week, and some check-down throws early on should give Nassib the confidence to take one-on-one shots down the field later on. Tight end Nick Provo, who has seen increased attention from opposing defenses of late, may be the recipient of some short catch-and-run opportunities to spark the unit.

The Green Wave offense will challenge the Orange's ability to limit the run. Darkwa is about the same size as Jerome Smith (6-foot, 215 pounds), but he is given the ball in multiple scenarios. Expect Tulane to feature him on a screen play early in the game to offset the aggressive mentality of Scott Shafer's defense. Once Darkwa is neutralized by the solid Orange defensive line, Griffin will not hesitate to force balls into windows that aren't there. Expect Deon Goggins and Mikhail Marinovich to continue their ascent towards potential all-conference selections.

The SU secondary should be able to have another nice night at the office, and interceptions should again be the result of tight coverage. Shamarko Thomas' return will help on all fronts, and his prowess in the run game may allow Phillip Thomas to become more of a traditional free safety, mirroring the quarterback as a rover like he did last week when he had three solid chances at an interception. On the outside, cornerbacks Kevyn Scott, Keon Lyn, and Rishard Anderson should be able to handle an undermanned group although the size of Kemp (6-foot-4, 204 pounds) may present a problem.

After a pair of breakout performances from Dyshawn Davis and Dan Vaughn last week, the line-backing corps should be in for tackle-heavy day against the Tulane rushing attack. Their coach already mentioned what he thought of a resurgent Marquise Spruill, saying he is "very active and a good player," so Davis and Vaughn may see more off-tackle action in an attempt by Tulane to avoid the solid interior line and Spruill in the running game.

Prediction

If Syracuse jumps out to a quick start, as they should, it could be all-she-wrote by the third quarter. But an opportune and desperate Tulane offense may pull out some tricks in the process. Still, even though the defense may give up a fluke score or two, SU should ride the running game and select deep passing game to a 31-17 victory in New Orleans Saturday night which would give ‘Cuse a 4-2 record heading into the bye week.


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