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LSU Tigers vs. Syracuse Orange Preview and Prediction

Les Miles

Les Miles

A matchup of Power 5 Conference will be on display on Saturday when LSU (2-0) travels to upstate New York to face Syracuse (3-0) grabbing SEC vs. ACC headlines.

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The reality of the matchup is a blue blood in LSU with national title hopes taking on a Syracuse team trying to rebound from a 3-9 season a year ago. To make matters worse for the Orange, looks like they will be without another starting quarterback against the Tigers.

LSU has rolled to a 2-0 record with wins over Mississippi State and Auburn missing out on a third potential victory when the opening week McNeese State game was called due to inclement weather. Syracuse has a 3-0 record looking to go 4-0 on the season for the first time since 1991. The Orange’s undefeated path thus far has been slightly different with wins over Rhode Island (47-0), Wake Forest (30-17), and Central Michigan (30-27).

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The Tigers have the nation’s No. 5-ranked rushing attack averaging 339 yards per game behind potential Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette. Fournette is a game behind his peers in the race for total rushing yards, but leads the nation with an average of 193.5 yards per game with six touchdowns on the ground.

Syracuse also relies heavily on their ground game, coming in with the nation’s No. 45 rushing attack averaging 209 yards per game.

Both teams have stout defenses to this point in the season and both have large questions marks under center going forward.

LSU at Syracuse

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET

Coverage: ESPN

Line: LSU -24.5

Three Things to Watch For

1. Syracuse’s rush defense against Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette has ripped apart two SEC defenses getting 159 yards against Mississippi State and set a career high in Week 3 with 228 yards against Auburn. In both contests Fournette has found the end zone three times.

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Syracuse has been one of the nation’s best run defenses with coordinator Chuck Bullough molding his unit into the No. 3 squad. The Orange are only allowing 46.7 yards per game, but that stat line will be put to a serious test against LSU.

Orange sophomore linebacker Zaire Franklin has set the tone stopping the run coming up with 21 tackles to lead the team. Fellow sophomores, linebacker Parris Bennett, 18 tackles, and safety Rodney Williams, 12 tackles, have been extremely active. Sophomore cornerback Antwan Cordy has been tested in the run game and has responded with 12 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss.

The group will have to be on high alert stopping Fournette, a running quarterback in Brandon Harris, and backup running backs Darrel Williams and Derrius Guice.

2. Syracuse must keep a quarterback healthy for an entire game

The “next man up” motto is being put to good use under center for Syracuse. Season opening starting quarterback Terrel Hunt is out for the season after an Achilles tendon tear and now last week’s starter Eric Dungey is likely out with concussion-like symptoms. Enter sophomore quarterback Austin Wilson, a former walk-on.

Wilson has completed 4-of-8 passes for 49 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tough time to make his first start against the nation’s No. 36 defense only allowing 319 yards a game.

In Syracuse’s overtime win against Central Michigan, Zack Mahoney made the play that kept the Orange in the game, a 13-yard third down pass to tight end Kendall Moore. Offensive coordinator Tim Lester may have no choice but to rotate both quarterbacks in and out of the lineup against LSU.

3. How will the Orange create offense against LSU’s defense?

As mentioned, LSU has the nation’s No. 35 defense. One of the things Syracuse does well — run the ball — LSU does well at stopping. The Tigers are No. 22 in the nation at stopping the run allowing 102 yards per contest. Syracuse has averaged 209 yards per game on the ground spreading out carries to Jordan Fredericks, George Morris, and Jacob Hill. Fredericks, a true freshman, is leading the team with 197 yards on the ground with two scores. Morris, a junior, is close behind with 116 yards on 19 carries.

With the loss of Dungey in the pocket, that takes away not only Syracuse’s best passing option but also takes away one of their better running options. Dungey is third on the team with 106 yards on the ground.

Austin Wilson has not shown the ability to move the chains with his feet. He has one rushing attempt, a sack, for a loss of two yards. Most quarterbacks new to starting hit the panic button quickly opting to run for their lives over making a second or third progression read. If LSU can get to Wilson early getting him out of rhythm and fearing for his life, this could be a really long day for Syracuse fans.

Final Analysis

Right now LSU looks like world beaters, and very well could be when all is said and done, but the Tigers are still far from perfect. If they ever come across a team that can stop the run with a decent pass defense they could be in trouble… Syracuse is not that team.

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The Orange are ahead of a lot of preseason predictions with a shot at making a bowl game, if they can stay healthy. All coaches want their team to play hard until the end but if the game is out of hand early, will Scott Shafer pull his starters in favor of resting guys for next week’s bye to prepare for South Florida and then a pretty tough conference slate that includes Virginia, Florida State, Pitt, Louisville, and Clemson? Or will he look for the offense to gel under his new quarterbacks pushing the issue against a tough Tigers team?

Chippewas quarterback Cooper Rush threw for 430 yards last week against Syracuse. Can Harris find his elite receiving core for some much needed stat padding in Week 4?

Prediction: LSU 52, Syracuse 20

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.