One ACC Atlantic team will look to end its losing streak while another looks to extend its winning streak on Saturday night at the Carrier Dome. Since letting a 14-point lead slip away against Clemson, Syracuse has lost three consecutive games. Its opponent, Florida State, has bounced back from a three-game skid with consecutive wins over Georgia Tech and Miami.
Both schools are bowl eligible and enter this game with identical 6-3 records, Saturday’s winner will be assured a winning season. Checking in at No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the Seminoles are looking for their first winning season since 2017. The last winning season for Syracuse came a season later when it finished 10-3.
FSU has dominated the all-time series, holding a 12-2 edge. The Seminoles have won the last three, including a 33-30 victory last season in Tallahassee on Ryan Fitzgerald’s field goal as time expired. Each of Syracuse’s two wins against the Seminoles has come at home.
No. 23 Florida State at Syracuse
When Florida State Has the Ball
The Florida State offense has quietly been one of the nation’s best. The Seminoles average nearly 34 points per game and rank 15th nationally and second in the ACC, averaging more than 483 yards per game. Quarterback Jordan Travis has grown by leaps and bounds as a passer. He currently ranks second in the ACC in yards per pass attempt and passer rating. Travis is also a fantastic runner, but at FSU, he’s far from alone. Without starting running back Treshaun Ward, Trey Benson has been named the ACC Running Back of the Week in consecutive weeks. Lawrance Toafili brings versatility to the backfield. Benson and Toafili each have more than 600 yards from scrimmage this season.
Toafili has been an integral part of the passing game as has tight end Camren McDonald. Leading the way out wide for FSU has been 6-foot-7 Arizona State transfer Johnny Wilson. Wilson leads the team with 625 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Last season’s leading receiver Ontaria Wilson and Oregon transfer Mycah Pittman are both capable playmakers in the passing game.
Through nine games, only three teams have managed to score more than 20 points against the Syracuse defense. The Orange allow the fewest yards in the ACC and the second-fewest points. Up front, Caleb Okechukwu and Steve Linton are tough to block. To this point in the year, the two have combined for eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Where the Orange are best, however, is at linebacker. Mikel Jones is a tackling machine while Marlow Wax is the definition of a playmaker at the position.
In the secondary, Ja’had Carter and Garrett Williams are the names to know for an opportunistic Syracuse defense. Williams has two interceptions for the season while Carter ranks second in the ACC with three. For the year, the Orange have a plus-seven turnover margin – good for 16th nationally. Despite the three-game losing streak, Syracuse is plus-three in the turnover department over the last three games.
When Syracuse Has the Ball
Syracuse’s Sean Tucker is one of the nation’s top running backs, but the question entering Saturday is who will start behind center. The Orange lost quarterback Garrett Shrader two weeks ago in a 41-24 loss to Notre Dame and it is unclear if he will be able to go on Saturday. If he isn’t, that will likely mean another start for freshman Carlos Del Rio-Wilson. He has struggled in recent weeks and against a good FSU defense that could spell problems. Shrader rushed for 137 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns in last season’s loss to the Seminoles in Tallahassee. Tucker was the nation’s leading rusher in 2021 and has 777 yards this season – good for third in the ACC. Without Shrader, however, Tucker has been largely bottled up the last two weeks. He finished with 102 yards on the ground against FSU last season.
In addition to being the leading rusher, Tucker also ranks second for the Orange in receiving yards. The top receiver for Syracuse is 6-foot-5 Oronde Gadsden II. With a skillset similar to Johnny Wilson, Gadsden is a matchup nightmare. He has 41 catches for 671 yards and six touchdown grabs this season – all team highs. Courtney Jackson was the top receiver for Syracuse in last season’s matchup at Doak Campbell Stadium, but he hasn’t caught a pass in either of the last two weeks. Syracuse has scored just three touchdowns over its last 10 quarters. The Orange were held to just 137 yards last week at Pittsburgh. Kicker Andre Szmyt is a former Lou Groza Award winner and one of the nation’s best.
While Syracuse was held to less than 200 yards last week, Florida State was doing the same thing to Miami. The Seminoles went four games without forcing a turnover before coming up with four last week. Finally healthy up front, Jared Verse, Fabien Lovett and Robert Cooper lead a formidable defensive line. Verse leads the ACC with 12 tackles for loss while Lovett and Cooper are run-stuffers. At linebacker, UCF transfer Tatum Bethune and Kalen DeLoach are the names to know. The two have combined for 102 tackles this season.
The top tackler for the Seminoles and their best player in the secondary is safety Jammie Robinson. Robinson leads FSU with 68 total tackles. FSU has a nice amount of depth in the secondary. Akeem Dent is also a good tackler while Louisville transfer Greedy Vance leads the team with two interceptions. As a team, the Seminoles rank fourth in the ACC in scoring defense. Only Syracuse allows fewer yards per game. Fitzgerald, the hero for FSU last season, got off to a rocky start in the kicking game. He has made his last four field goals, however.
Quarterbacks with the ability to scramble such as Jayden Daniels and DJ Uiagalelei have given FSU problems this season. Syracuse’s best chance would come with Shrader behind center. Whether or not Shrader is able to go, FSU’s defense will aim to stop Tucker first and foremost. Coming off a 45-3 rout of Miami, the Seminoles played perhaps their most complete game of the season last week. For FSU, Saturday’s contest could be the difference between meeting expectations for this season and exceeding them.
Prediction: Florida State 27, Syracuse 22
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.
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