Villanova Wildcats vs. Syracuse Orange
When: Friday, August 29, 2014, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY
Syracuse’s Previous Season Record: 7-6 (4-4 in ACC), Defeated Minnesota in Texas Bowl
Key Players for Syracuse: #10 Terrel Hunt (6-3, 234) Sr., QB; #60 Sean Hickey (6-6, 306) Sr., OL; #3 Durell Eskridge (6-4, 205) Jr., S; #38 Cameron Lynch (6-0, 231) Sr., LB; #94 Robert Welsh (6-3, 257) Sr., DE
Scouting Report: Second-year coach Scott Shafer is looking to put together another winning season for the Orange. Syracuse has enjoyed some recent success, coming off of back-to-back winning seasons resulting in bowl wins. Despite the departure of running back Jerome Smith, Syracuse is looking to bring back a number of players that will just get better and better. On the offensive side of the ball, Terrel Hunt is looking to pick up from where he left off last season. Since taking over as starting quarterback, he has won seven of his ten starts. At times, Hunt has made poor decisions; sporting a lackluster 10-8 touchdown to interceptions ratio. He can also provide an offensive spark, providing big plays with his legs on the ground. Hunt is Syracuse’s top returning rusher, picking up 500 yards and seven touchdowns off of 106 carries. If Syracuse chooses to make plays through the air, watch out for Ashton Broyld. Broyld was the top target last season, racking up 52 receptions. However, Syracuse’s mantra has always been about the ground game. With Smith gone, there will be numerous opportunities for the young backs to step up. Sophomore backs George Morris II and Devante McFarlane looked promising in limited action they received last season. However, senior Prince-Tyson Gulley will probably receive a bulk of the carries. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and had seven touchdowns. They will look to ground and pound the ball with the help of their experienced offensive line. The Orange are returning four out of five starters on the offensive line. 6-foot-6, 306 pound tackle Sean Hickey will lead the big men up front, he has been named to the All-ACC preseason list. Defense is where Syracuse shines. Their gritty defensive play brought them a number of wins last season. They had the 24th best rush defense in all of the FBS, allowing only 137.4 rushing yards per game. They play a physical, tough defense that is filled with a large number of blitz packages. They have a solid pair of defensive ends in Robert Welsh and Micah Robinson. Welsh put together a good campaign that included four sacks, seven tackles for loss, one interception, and one fumble recovery. Robinson didn’t put up as good of a season numbers-wise, but he has a reputation of being a run stopper. At the linebacker position, Cameron Lynch is primed for another big season. He filled in flawlessly for the injured Dyshawn Davis. Davis was on the lookout for a big season until he got hurt. With both linebackers in the starting lineup, they will be providing opposing offenses a number of problems. The secondary will be led by the ball-hawking Durell Eskridge. Eskridge could have gone pro, but decided to stay around for at least another year. He had four interceptions last season and should replicate similar (if not better) numbers this year. He will wreak havoc all over the field.
Outlook: This game will be a great gauge for where Villanova is and where they can go this season. Syracuse makes up for an inconsistent offense with a good defense. Unfortunately for the run heavy Villanova offense, the Syracuse rush defense is solid. Syracuse will bring the heat on the football field as they play defense, putting a lot of pressure on Villanova’s offensive line. John Robertson will see a lot of blitzes as he tries to orchestrate the offense. Kevin Monangai will face a lot of pressure as he and the rest of the Villanova offense try to get the ground game going. If Villanova wants to win this game, they will have to bring their best run and pass game against this tough Syracuse defense. On the flip side of things, Villanova is also pretty good at stopping the run game. So it’ll be interesting to see how each team’s rushing offense will do. Regardless, the odds are stacked against FCS teams when they face off against FBS teams. This is no different. Villanova is the underdog, but I think the game will be closer than the final score suggests. The Wildcats did a fine job of hanging in there against Boston College last year and they were even in control at one point in the game. I think the same thing will happen here. The game will be close until a late touchdown will seal the deal for the Orange.
Prediction: Villanova 17, Syracuse 28