The scenario would have been impossible to fathom several years ago, but Florida State will enter October as the only ACC team without a victory. FSU hopes to end that drought at home on Saturday as it plays host to Syracuse.
With a late field goal, the Orange (3-1) are coming off a hard-fought 24-21 win over Liberty as they get set to open ACC play in Tallahassee. The competition has hardly been stiff, but Syracuse has already tripled last season's win total. The Seminoles, meanwhile, are 0-4 for the first time since 1974. FSU battled back last week but came up short in a 31-23 loss to Louisville.
In the last meeting between the schools, FSU used four touchdown runs from Cam Akers to top Syracuse 35-17. Historically, FSU has dominated the series. The Seminoles are 11-2 all-time against the Orange, which included a 10-game winning streak from 1978 to 2017. Syracuse last opened ACC play with a win in 2018 when it defeated FSU in the Carrier Dome 30-7.
Syracuse at Florida State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Florida State -4.5
When Syracuse Has the Ball
Tommy DeVito and Garrett Shrader have split time at quarterback for Syracuse this season. Both are mobile, but neither has set the world on fire. Instead, the focal point of the Syracuse offense has been running back Sean Tucker. Tucker ranks second nationally with 536 rushing yards and leads the nation with 711 yards from scrimmage. A 210-pound freshman, Tucker is not only Syracuse's leading rusher, but with 175 yards, he's the leading receiver as well.
Tucker has accounted for eight of Syracuse's 15 touchdowns this season with seven coming on the ground. Shrader ranks second with four. The only other player with more than 100 rushing or receiving yards for Syracuse this season is wide receiver Taj Harris. Harris has a team-high 16 catches for 171 yards. Syracuse is in the middle of the pack in the ACC in scoring offense and 10th in total offense.
When it comes to the Florida State defense, the key seems to be putting two halves together. The Seminoles have allowed fewer than 10 points in a half in each of their last three games, but that either followed or was preceded by big offensive efforts from opponents. Last week, FSU blanked Louisville in the second half after falling behind 31-7. Defensive end Jermaine Johnson, a transfer from Georgia, is putting together an All-America-caliber campaign so far. Johnson leads the nation in sacks with 5.5 and ranks second in the ACC with 7.5 tackles for a loss.
Keir Thomas and Robert Cooper have also been solid contributors for the FSU defensive front while Amari Gainer and Kalen DeLoach have been responsible for improved linebacker play. The problem for FSU has been in the secondary. The Seminoles have given up a ton of big plays and big passing efforts by opposing quarterbacks. At nearly 283 passing yards allowed per game, FSU ranks dead last in the ACC. Among Power 5 schools, only Oregon, California, Illinois, and UCLA allow more damage through the air.
When Florida State Has the Ball
McKenzie Milton will be making his fourth straight start at quarterback for Florida State. Once a top-10 Heisman Trophy finisher at UCF, Milton has been a shell of himself after a devastating leg injury in 2018, but he passed for a season-high 248 yards last week against Louisville. Ontaria Wilson and Andrew Parchment are emerging as the top two targets for FSU while the offensive line still struggles in pass protection. Where FSU does the most damage, however, is on the ground.
Last week, running back Jashaun Corbin eclipsed the century mark for the third time in four games, going for a career-high 159 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Corbin ranks third in the ACC with 439 rushing yards, and his 9.1 yards per carry lead the league. Treshaun Ward, a former walk-on, has been a nice complementary back. If Syracuse can slow the FSU ground attack on Saturday, it has to like its chances.
The aforementioned Johnson has dominated defensively for FSU. Perhaps the only pass rusher having a better season is Syracuse's Cody Roscoe. Roscoe is tied with Johnson for the ACC lead in sacks and leads the conference with eight tackles for a loss. As a team, the Orange lead the nation with 18 sacks. In addition to Roscoe's hot start, linebackers Marlowe Wax and Stefon Thompson have combined for 5.5 more. That pass rush could have a field day on Saturday against an FSU offensive line that allowed six sacks last week to a Louisville team that had just five through three games coming in.
The competition has not been the greatest, but through four games, the Syracuse defense has been much improved. The Orange have not allowed more than 24 points in any game so far this season and give up fewer than 18 per game. Among ACC teams, only NC State is allowing fewer yards per game than Syracuse. In addition to the players mentioned, leading tackler Mikel Jones is also having a good year. If there is a bright spot for FSU, it's that Syracuse is tied with Virginia and Miami for the fewest takeaways in the ACC this season with three.
After an 0-4 start, this may serve as Florida State's best chance to get an ACC win. This contest may come down to which school can run the ball the best, as both have outstanding backs and stout run defenses. Quarterback play may be in FSU's favor, but the Seminoles must find a way to avoid giving up the big play if they're to avoid falling to 0-5. Syracuse will look to do something on Saturday that it has never done before — win in Tallahassee.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Syracuse 20
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.