The ACC vs. SEC showdown Saturday night featuring the Syracuse Orange against the LSU Tigers is shaping up to be a clarifying game for both teams. The Orange (2-1) head to Baton Rouge to face their first Power 5 opponent of the season, while the Tigers (2-1) are seeking to rebound from a wakeup-call road loss to Mississippi State.
The season started off as expected for Syracuse until Middle Tennessee refused to play along in Week 2. The Blue Raiders hung 14 points on the Orange in the fourth quarter, winning 30-23. The Orange got back on their feet with a 41-17 win over Central Michigan that saw the offense hum again behind junior quarterback Eric Dungey, while the defense did its part.
After a 27-0 neutral-site win over BYU and a 37-7 pounding of Chattanooga, LSU looked like a top 10 team. After a first-quarter defensive struggle, MSU imposed its will against the Tigers, running all over them while playing stingy defense and shattering early-season perceptions of LSU. Three games into Ed Orgeron’s tenure as head coach, he already has doubters after the 30-point loss to the Bulldogs.
Syracuse takes the field in Death Valley looking for a statement win before a tough five-game stretch that includes NC State, Pitt, Clemson, Miami and Florida State. LSU can ill afford another early-season disappointment, especially if a college football playoff berth is still the goal. Topping the agenda for LSU: getting back to the smash-mouth basics while playing error-free football.
Syracuse at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: LSU -22
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU’s attention to every detail
It is what it is, but LSU fans have to wonder how the game against Mississippi State might have turned out if two touchdowns had not been called back because of penalties (not to mention all the miscues in between). Through three games, LSU has proven to be one of the least disciplined teams in the nation, earning 30 penalties for 272 yards in losses. The defense allowed MSU to rush for yards, while the Tigers were limited to 133 yards rushing, losing the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
How the team responds against a Syracuse team expected to lose by three touchdowns should give insight into how the team is responding to its adversity.
2. Carrying the pigskin for Derrius Guice
After Guice sat out of practice on Monday and Tuesday, Orgeron called his running back's absence “a minor injury.” On a teleconference call Wednesday, Orgeron ruled out the All-SEC tailback for the Syracuse game. Senior Darrel Williams will get a chance to lead the Tigers' ground attack against the Orange. Williams picked up five carries against Mississippi State for 29 yards and a score and caught two passes for 37 yards. His single-game career best was a 21-carry, 130-yard game with three scores against Missouri in 2016. Junior running back Nick Brossette is the third-leading rusher for LSU but did not log a carry against the Bulldogs.
3. Can Syracuse QB Eric Dungey do it All?
Orange head coach Dino Barbers' team is lighting up the scoreboard this season at a clip of 38 points per game. Eric Dungey is an extremely talented dual-threat quarterback. He is completing 65 percent of his passes this season covering 787 yards with five scores against two picks. Trouble is, he also is the Orange's leading rusher with 209 yards on 39 carries with four more touchdowns. Sophomore Moe Neal, the team’s second-leading rusher, is a scat-back who can make things happen, but can his 5-foot-11, 182-pound frame take a beating against LSU’s defensive front to help carry the load?
If Syracuse has a puncher’s chance against the Tigers, an early lead is a must, and the bigger the better. The Tigers will be without end Neil Farrell and linebacker Donnie Alexander for the first half after each were ejected from the Mississippi State game for targeting. LSU also won't have the services of defensive tackle Ed Alexander or end Frank Herron due to injury. The Bulldogs limited LSU to seven first half points. If Syracuse can do something similar on defense while putting some points on the board, do these Tigers have the mental fortitude to keep fighting, or will it all unravel?
Ed Orgeron has a chance to firmly get his team’s attention. An undefeated run to Nov. 4 to face Alabama is off the table, so a new focus is needed. How will the Tigers respond to the coaching staff? Unfortunately for Syracuse, LSU will not look past the Orange with Troy on the schedule next week and the Mississippi State loss still fresh on their minds.
Prediction: LSU 38, Syracuse 24
— 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 and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.