Keys for Syracuse vs. LSU Matchup
Syracuse (2-1) coach Dino Babers prepares the Orange to take on No. 25 LSU (2-1). While sporting the same overall record, the two teams enter the game on very different trajectories. The Orange are fresh off their 41-17 win over Central Michigan, while LSU limps into Saturday's matchup after its 37-7 defeat to Mississippi State. Last week marks the worst loss LSU has experienced vs. Mississippi State over its 111-game series history.
To make matters worse for LSU, the Tigers star running back Derrius Guice, who led the SEC in rushing last season, is questionable for the game. When asked about Guice's availability, Babers stated, "If (Guice)'s not going to play, they probably have a 5-star or 4-start that we haven't seen on tape that would make our job more difficult because we haven't seen him."
This will be Syracuse's first trip to LSU's Tiger Stadium, which is also known as "Death Valley". The Tigers lead the overall series between the schools 2-1 and have won 48-straight non-conference games at home, dating back to a loss against UAB in 2000. The last time Syracuse won on the road against a Power-Five conference opponent was in November 2012, when the Orange knocked off Missouri 31-27. Despite this history, the Orange have reasons to be encouraged about the matchup.
Syracuse Running Game
Syracuse racked up 300 yards rushing against the Chippewas, which ranks as the most yards gained on the ground under Babers and the most yards since its 2015 win over Rhode Island. The Orange's offensive attack will be similar to the scheme that Nick Fitzgerald and Mississippi state used to carve up LSU's normally staunch running defense for 285 rushing yards. Plus, LSU defensive tackles Rashard Lawrence, Frank Herron and Ed Alexander's status for the game are unknown. The loss of these three players contributed to the Bulldogs ability to gain big yardage.
According to LSU's defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the Tigers defense failed to set the edge against Mississippi State, allowing Fitzgerald and the Bulldog offense to run for big gains outside. Head coach Ed Orgeron agreed, "We let too many runs get outside of us." Tiger linebacker Devin White said that LSU didn't read their keys. Syracuse's offense will speed up the tempo to confuse the young LSU defense and to exploit any holes in LSU's defensive line.
3rd Down Conversion
Brian Ward's defense is one of the best in the country on third down. After three games, Syracuse ranks sixth nationally and 2nd in the ACC for third down conversions and are only allowing opponents to convert 16.3% (or 7 of 43). In the first half of games, the Orange have only allowed one conversion in 20 tries on third down. LSU's offense, led by senior quarterback Danny Etling, converts 37.1% of their third downs, ranking the Tigers 86th in the FBS. This will be Syracuse's toughest opponent to date this season. However, LSU's offense is under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and the Tigers have yet to hit their stride offensively.
Syracuse's defense has very good against the run this season. The Orange have not allowed a single rush greater than 20 yards. Plus, LSU's primary back, Derrius Guice, is questionable for the game. The Orange's ability to contain LSU's rushing attack and limit third down conversions is a key to this Saturday's matchup. This key metric favors the Orange.
In addition to stopping teams on third down, Syracuse's defense has seven takeaways this season. The Orange have four fumble recoveries and three interceptions created by seven different defenders. Across the ball, LSU has done a very good job of securing the football. The Tigers, along with Alabama, have yet to turn the ball over on offense. It's unlikely the Tigers can go the whole season without turning the ball over. Babers and Ward would love to see the Orange continue to generate takeaways, but this stat favors LSU.
One of the major criticisms of Ed Orgeron's team is penalties. The Tigers have been flagged 30 times over three games, ranking it the fourth most among FBS schools. Last week, LSU had two targeting penalties combined with both offensive and defensive fouls. The mistakes haven't just been made by young players either. Even veterans players are contributing to the total. LSU made a point of emphasis to correct its penalties by running extra sprints after practice. Since LSU will have a home field advantage, it's likely that they will be flagged less than last week, but this is a key weakness of LSU and an advantage for Syracuse in this week's matchup.
Syracuse will need to play mistake-free football in order to give itself a chance against LSU. Although, according to former player and SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears, this isn't the same caliber LSU team. Speaking after the Mississippi State loss, Spears says, "(LSU has) become a mediocre football team, and a middle-of-the-pack, very average college football program."
The Orange have an uptempo and ground oriented rushing game and a defense that has been very good at generating turnovers and stopping opponents on third down. Syracuse will need all of those things and possibly a little luck to pull an upset in their first visit to Death Valley. The game will be televised on ESPN2 with a 7:00 pm ET kickoff.