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Syracuse vs. NC State Football Prediction and Preview

Sean Tucker, Syracuse Orange Football

Sean Tucker and the Orange need a win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh to become bowl eligible

After a tough loss to Wake Forest that likely cost NC State a shot at the ACC title, the Wolfpack will look to finish strong as they get their final two games at home. That begins on Saturday against Syracuse.

Although a conference title is likely out of reach, a 10-win season is not. NC State comes in with a record of 7-3 (4-2 in ACC play) and ranked No. 20 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Syracuse is 5-5 (2-4 in conference) and needs a win in one of its final two games (vs. Pittsburgh on Nov. 27) to become bowl eligible.

NC State has dominated the head-to-head series with Syracuse. The Wolfpack have won 12 of the 14 meetings between the schools, including six of the last seven. The Orange actually took a lead into the final quarter of last season's matchup, but a 26-yard touchdown pass from Bailey Hockman to Emeka Emezie early in the fourth put NC State ahead for good in a 36-29 victory.

Syracuse at No. 20 NC State

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: NC State -11

When Syracuse Has the Ball

When Garrett Shrader was inserted into the lineup, Syracuse was given a spark offensively, but things have not gone well for the quarterback as of late. The Mississippi State transfer is more dangerous with his legs than his arm, but he has been largely stifled in both areas over the last two weeks. He managed just 89 total yards in last week's 41-3 blowout loss to Louisville. Shrader ranks second in the ACC with 13 rushing touchdowns, but the straw that stirs the Orange drink on offense is running back Sean Tucker.

Tucker is the biggest reason why Syracuse leads the ACC in rushing. For the season, Tucker leads the conference and ranks second nationally with 1,362 yards on the ground. Tucker also has been the Orange's leading receiver for a large portion of the year, but that distinction now belongs to Courtney Jackson. Jackson also has returned a punt for a touchdown. Damien Alford has been the best big-play threat for Syracuse. As a whole, Syracuse ranks 10th in the ACC in both scoring and total offense.

One would not have guessed it during last week's 45-42 loss to Wake Forest, but the NC State defense is one of the ACC's best. The Wolfpack rank behind only Clemson in scoring defense and are third in the conference in total defense. Tucker will have his hands – or legs – full against an NC State defense that yields less than 101 rushing yards per game. That starts up front with the likes of Davin Vann, Cory Durden, and Daniel Joseph.

Despite dealing with some injuries, the Wolfpack are still pretty solid at linebacker. Drake Thomas is having an All-ACC-caliber season and leads the Wolfpack with 82 total tackles, four sacks and two interceptions, and Vi Jones also is dependable. Safety Tanner Ingle has been a tackling machine in the secondary, while Derrek Pitts Jr. may be the team's best cover man. NC State doesn't generate a ton of pressure, but four different players have at least 3.5 sacks this season. Forcing Syracuse into passing situations will be the goal for the Wolfpack on Saturday.

When NC State Has the Ball

The NC State offense doesn't wow people statistically, but there is good depth and talent at the skill positions. Quarterback Devin Leary is quietly having an outstanding season for NC State. Leary has thrown for nearly 2,883 yards and has 31 total touchdowns compared to just five interceptions. Leary has four touchdown passes in three straight games. Part of the reason for this success is that he has arguably the ACC's top trio of wide receivers in Emezie, Devin Carter, and Thayer Thomas.

Ekezie and Carter are each big targets who can also stretch the field while Thomas is the quintessential possession receiver. Emezie leads the team with 54 catches for 683 yards, while Carter and Thomas are tied with six touchdown grabs each. In the backfield, Ricky Person Jr. and Zonovan Knight share the rushing duties. Those two have combined for 1,170 yards on the ground. Person is the better receiver of the two, but Knight is a dangerous return man. Last week, he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. Ikem Ekwonu headlines an offensive line that has yielded the second-fewest sacks in the ACC.

As good as Tucker has been this season, the strength for Syracuse has been on defense. That starts up front with Cody Roscoe. Roscoe ranks third in the ACC with eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. Syracuse has a number of players who can get after the quarterback. With 34 sacks, the Orange rank second in the ACC and are tied for sixth nationally. Senior Kingsley Jonathan has had an outstanding year as well for Syracuse's defensive line, which lines up in front of a talented and deep group of linebackers.

Mikel Jones and Stefon Thompson are the top two tacklers. Thompson and freshman Marlowe Wax are the best pass rushers from the group, combining for 10 sacks. Outside of the sacks, Syracuse has not made many game-changing plays. The Orange have forced the fewest turnovers in the nation with just six. Darian Chestnut has two of the team's three interceptions. On special teams, Syracuse's Andre Szmyt and NC State's Christopher Dunn have had disappointing seasons, but have historically been pretty good kickers. The Wolfpack's Trenton Gill leads the ACC in yards per punt at more than 46 yards per boot.

Final Analysis

Given NC State's stout rushing defense, Syracuse will likely have to make plays in the passing game to win. Carter-Finley Stadium is a hostile crowd, and that's a tall task for Shrader and Co. — NC State has yet to lose at home this season. Syracuse's passing defense has struggled mightily on the road this season and was recently gashed by Louisville's Malik Cunningham. Against Leary and his weapons, it could be a long day for the Orange.

Prediction: NC State 34, Syracuse 17

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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.