A struggling Florida State team will try to avoid the harsh reality of starting 0-2 in ACC play for a second time in three years and prevent new head coach Willie Taggart from losing his first two contests against FBS opponents when the Seminoles make the trek to Upstate New York to face Syracuse. After getting blasted by Virginia Tech to open the season, FSU needed a touchdown with four minutes to play in Week 2 to sneak past FCS power Samford.
The Orange are off to a 2-0 start for the second time in Dino Babers' three years and will aim to open conference play with a victory. The two wins thus far for Syracuse are against Western Michigan from the MAC and Wagner from the FCS ranks.
The series has been lopsided of late with Florida State winning the last 10 in the series after dropping the first-ever meeting. Last season, however, FSU needed a missed field goal as time expired to escape at home, 27-24. The Carrier Dome has traditionally been a tough place for opponents to play. It was the scene of ACC champion Clemson’s only regular-season loss in 2017.
Florida State at Syracuse
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 15 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida State -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Eric Dungey vs. FSU defense
For Florida State to have any chance in the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon, it will have to slow down Syracuse senior quarterback Eric Dungey. Dungey is the type of player who can beat a defense with his arm or his legs, and he will be facing an FSU defense that has been inconsistent at best this season. In last week’s win over Samford, Bulldogs quarterback Devlin Hodges threw for nearly 500 yards, although the Seminoles did pick him off four times.
The one sigh of relief for FSU is that the Orange aren’t exactly loaded with playmakers outside of Dungey. Jamal Custis, a 6-foot-5 senior, is the biggest threat for Syracuse. The Seminoles are talented in the secondary with Levonta Taylor and Kyle Meyers at the corners. Brian Burns, a junior defensive end, will be largely responsible for keeping Dungey in check on the ground. Despite playing on a bad ankle for most of the second half of last season's matchup, Dungey finished with 278 yards passing, 109 yards rushing and three total touchdowns against Florida State.
2. The FSU offensive line vs. the Syracuse defensive line
The biggest culprit in Florida State’s struggles to this point in the season has been the offensive line. It's an area where FSU has struggled the last few years, and injuries early on have only complicated matters. Center Alec Eberle and versatile Derrick Kelly are very experienced seniors, but outside of those two, it’s been musical guards and tackles this season. The Seminoles have struggled both to pass protect and to open up holes for the likes of Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick. Akers rushed for a career-high 199 yards against the Orange last season.
The defensive line for Syracuse wasn’t expected to be a strength, and to this point, it has not been. The Orange have 12 tackles for a loss and three sacks on the season so far against the likes of Western Michigan and Wagner. It should be noted that the Broncos averaged 8.6 yards per rush and put up 621 yards against Syracuse. Defensive tackle Chris Slayton headlines the defensive tackle position. If there was ever a game for FSU to be able to generate a push offensively, it’s this one.
3. Third down efficiency
Sustaining drives will play a key role during Saturday’s contest in the Carrier Dome. Florida State will need to find a way to get Dungey and the Orange offense off the field when the opportunity presents itself. Last season, Syracuse torched the Seminoles on third down by going 11-for-25 with many of those being long yardage situations. FSU, on the other hand, was just 1-for-13.
Those trends have continued throughout the early parts of 2018 as the Orange are a respectable 13-for-30 on third down, a conversion rate of 43 percent. The Seminoles haven’t been able to keep drives going much at all this season. FSU is just 9-for-30, which ranks 113th in the country. Against Samford, the Seminoles were a dismal 2-for-12 before converting the final two third downs on their game-winning drive. FSU will need to be able to generate enough push up front on short yardage and stay in manageable situations for quarterback Deondre Francois.
With Syracuse thriving on offense and struggling on defense, Saturday’s contest in the Carrier Dome will come down to which team can make the most stops. Eric Dungey is a stud at quarterback for the Orange, but his defense may force him to win a shootout against an FSU team that has struggled to score. The Seminoles are a surprising favorite in this one, but they avoided disaster against Samford and are looking to build some continuity. At this point, Syracuse seems to have fewer questions, and the Orange's home-field advantage could prove critical.