The Hokies are a more talented team than the Orange, but they must get off to a fast start to neutralize a hostile home crowd at the Carrier Dome
Fresh off of their 34-3 road victory last Saturday against the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Virginia Tech Hokies enter Saturday’s match-up on the road against Syracuse as the number 17 team in the latest AP poll and 19.5 point favorites over the Orange as of Saturday morning.
The Hokies are firing on all cylinders on both offense and defense, and have a potentially massive Thursday night match-up awaiting them in less than a week in Blacksburg, when they face #16 Miami.
As for Syracuse? They have a young, rebuilding team with the conference’s leader in passing yards at the controls on offense in sophomore quarterback Eric Dungey. He has thrown for 1,886 yards and 11 touchdowns to only four interceptions. He has also rushed four five touchdowns, frequently calling his own number down by the goal line.
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They include two of the top seven receivers in terms of yards in the conference, with Amba Etta-Tawo leading the charge tallying 51 receptions for 876 yards and six touchdowns, followed by Erv Phillips’ 42 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns.
However, once you get outside of the three playmakers on offense, there isn’t a ton to get excited about from a personnel standpoint with Dino Babers’ squad.
Defensively, the Orange are atrocious. They rank in a tie for 113th nationally in total defense, allowing 6.52 yards per play and 475.2 yards per game. Additionally, they are 108th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 36.0 points per game.
All-around, Syracuse is not nearly as talented as the Hokies, as both teams are clearly in different phases of their respective programs. The Orange are in a clear and obvious rebuild, although an argument could be made that Babers’ squad is well ahead of schedule. The Hokies, meanwhile, have had the talent to compete in the ACC’s Coastal Division each and every year, but prior to the first five games of this season, have consistently underperformed since their ACC Championship appearance in December of 2011.
With the Hokies having everything left to play for, essentially controlling their own destiny (I hate that phrase, but I’m using it) to get to the ACC Championship in Orlando in December, it is all the more reason that they need to start fast and not give the Orange hope on Saturday afternoon.
The Hokies have outscored opponents in the first quarter this season by a whopping margin of 55-6.
This is clearly a big reason for the Hokies being 4-1, with fast starts being one of the many keys to winning games on the college football stage. This is first truly hostile road environment that the team has faced this season, although some in attendance for the Battle at Bristol may argue that the Hokies were playing a road game there, too.
Continuing the trend of getting stops defensively, forcing turnovers, and giving quarterback Jerod Evans and the wildly efficient Virginia Tech offense a short field, are all aspects of the game to watch, especially early in the first half.
Evans has proven to be surgical with the football and his distribution in the passing game, taking few risks and making all of the right throws. This coupled with the Hokies’ continued improvement in the running game should help the team get the ball rolling early on offense, lighting up the scoreboard in this game as much as we all are expecting.
Syracuse has great fans, not only for football (where they haven’t been relevant in 20 years), but for basketball, where they consistently boast one of the nation’s top teams. The Carrier Dome hosts it all, with fans coming rowdy no matter what the state of their team. If the Hokies don’t start fast today, this game may not be as easy as some expect.
Dino Babers is a great coach for the Syracuse program moving forward, and even without all of his personnel in place yet, he boasts on of the nation’s best offensive units.
This is not going to be a game where the Hokies can roll out their helmets and win. Avoid the lookahead game here to Miami on Thursday night in Blacksburg, and find a way to take care of business.
That’s what Coach Fuente will be preaching, and that’s what Hokies fans will expect to see as a product on the field on Saturday afternoon.