Sitting at 3-6, Syracuse has to win out in order to become bowl eligible. It starts with
Syracuse quarterback/receivers/tight ends vs. Duke secondary
The Syracuse passing attack shows flashes of coming together every week, but a patchwork offensive line has made things difficult. Not to mention a true freshman quarterback and two top receiving options out with injury.
The emergence of receiver Steve Ishmael has certainly been a bright spot, but there is too much inconsistency here. Getting the tight ends more involved may be an option going forward.
The Duke secondary is their strongest defensive unit. Safety Jeremy Cash may be their best defensive player. He can cover, tackle and blitzes frequently as well. Devon Edwards is another versatile player who can cover or play in the box. Due has a decided advantage entering this one.
Syracuse running backs vs. Duke linebackers
Syracuse has a stable of talented running backs while the Duke front seven is vulnerable to the power running game. The Blue Devils are 107th in the nation against the run, giving up over 4.7-yards per carry and 214 per game. Look for a lot of between the tackle runs for Syracuse in this one.
Duke only plays two linebackers in their nickel base defense. David Helton and C.J. France are tasked with plugging the gaps but have struggled to do all season. The Orange have the advantage here.
Syracuse offensive line vs. Duke defensive line
There may not be a unit in the country more banged up than the Syracuse offensive line. The status of Nick Robinson and Rob Trudo are in doubt for this week, though Trudo will probably try to give it a go. John Miller is not 100% and Omari Palmer is playing out of position.
Against a below average N.C. State defensive front, they allowed frequent penetration both in the ground attack and passing game. Despite the Duke front four being the weakest part of their defense, it’s hard to envision Syracuse fairing much better given their lack of health.
Defensive end Dezmond Johnson is a guy to watch for Duke as the best pass rusher of their front four. The rest of the group is solid but unspectacular. But with the injuries up front for Syracuse, the Blue Devils have the edge.
Duke quarterback/receivers/tight ends vs. Syracuse secondary
The Syracuse secondary has been improving week to week, led by senior Brandon Reddish. The Orange have tackled better, limited the big plays and covered well down the field. Safety Darius Kelly has also improved his play of late.
While the Orange have done better against the pass, they face arguably their toughest test of the season in the Duke passing attack. While the Blue Devils do not have a tight end threat, they do have the deepest receiving corps in the conference.
Jamison Crowder is the biggest threat, and will test the tackling ability of the Orange secondary. Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney are both very capable threats as well. McCaffrey is a solid receiver with good hands. Blakeney is inconsistent, but flashes the spectacular at times. He has an ideal combination of size of speed.
Duke takes care of the ball and has some dynamic playmakers. Given that Syracuse has been victim to the big play this season, the Blue Devils have an edge here.
Duke running backs vs. Syracuse linebackers
The Duke ground attack is averaging nearly six yards per carry and over 210-yards per game. The Syracuse run defense is 30th in the nation at only 130-yards per outing and less than 3.3 per carry. Two strong units will battle in this matchup.
Shaun Wilson is an explosive back, picking up nearly 10-yards per attempt. He is the leading rusher in terms of yards despite being third in number of carries. Shaquille Powell, Josh Snead and Joseph Ajeigbe also rotate in. They are solid backs but do not have the same big play ability as Wilson.
Backup quarterback Thomas Sirk is supremely athletic and sees snaps in goal-line situations. He leads the team in rushing touchdowns with seven.
The Orange are led by linebackers Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. Both are skilled blitzers who make plays in the backfield. True freshman Zaire Franklin has flashed throughout the season and could be in line for his first start this weekend.
Look for a strong effort from this group as they keep Duke below their rushing average.
Duke offensive line vs. Syracuse defensive line
The Duke offensive line has been one of the better groups in the conference. They have only allowed four sacks on the season and are blocking for a strong ground attack. They are led by guard Lake Tomlinson, a smart, experienced player who makes all of the protection calls.
The Syracuse defensive line has played well against the run but struggled to generate a consistent pass rush. The quick passing offense of the Blue Devils does not lend itself to being sacked, which will limit the effectiveness of the defensive line.
Syracuse special teams vs. Duke special teams
The kickers and punters are nearly a wash in this battle as both possess accurate kickers and strong-legged punters. The difference in this battle are the returners. Syracuse has been average at bet in the return game while Duke possesses some dynamic playmakers that will test the Syracuse coverage units.
Jamison Crowder is dangerous every time he touches the ball, and is the primary punt returner. Anytime he is in space, he is a threat to make a big play. DeVon Edwards is the kick returner and is quick, elusive and can turn on the burners to run away from would-be tacklers.