2023 Preseason Opponent Preview: Syracuse

Dino Babers enters year eight at Syracuse and holds a 36-49 record. Last season, the Orange finished 7-6, but 2022 was a tale of two seasons. Cuse opened the season with an impressive 31-7 win over Louisville, beat NC State, got to 6-0, and even led Clemson in the fourth quarter at Death Valley but couldn’t hang on. Syracuse then finished the season 1-6, including a 38-3 blowout loss to Florida State at home. Although they lost a few of their top playmakers, the Orange have some pieces to build around and will look to rebound from a disappointing end to the 2022 season. 

On offense, Syracuse will have a new OC after Robert Anae left to reunite with Brennan Armstrong at NC State after just one season with the Orange. QB coach Jason Beck will step into the position. His quarterback, Garrett Shrader, is back and has gotten better each season.

In 2022, Shrader went 205/317 (64.7%) for 2,640 YDS with 17 TDs and 7 INTs. His QBR was 68.3 (41st), and his PFF grade was 86.1 (24th). He added 453 YDS on the ground (3.0 YPC) with 9 TDs. At 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, Shrader is a load to bring down.

FSU did a much better job containing Shrader last season than in 2021, holding him to just 22 yards on the ground versus the 143 yards and 3 touchdowns he put up on his last trip to Tallahassee. His running ability is a big part of their offense, and he’s been the second-leading rusher for Cuse the past two seasons.

A big concern for Syracuse is Shrader staying healthy, as he’s the only quarterback on the roster with any real experience. Carlos Del Rio-Wilson has the most production behind Shrader with just 22 career pass attempts, 342 YDS, 1 TD, and 1 INT. Even with Shrader’s size, there is always a risk when you run the ball 150 times and get sacked 28 times like he did in 2022. Shrader is the heart of their offense, accounting for 63.4% of their yards last year. Dino Babers is 4-20 with a backup QB, so Shrader must stay healthy for them to win.

At running back, they lose All-American and back-to-back 1,000 YD rusher Sean Tucker, leaving big shoes to fill. LeQuint Allen (74.4 PFF) will step into Tucker’s place. Last season, Allen averaged 6.7 YPC but only had 41 carries for 274 YDS and 1 TD. That average also has some smoke and mirrors to it. If you remove the 28 YPC Allen averaged against FCS Wagner (on only four carries but included a 90-yard run), his average becomes 2.83 YPC. He averaged 6.3 YPC on 6 carries vs. FSU, but we know run defense was one area FSU struggled last season. The numbertwo back for 2023 only had 8 carries for 39 yards last year.

Oronde Gadsden II returns to lead the Syracuse receiving core. At 6-foot-5, 223 pounds, Gadsden is technically listed as a TE on the roster, but he’s more of a flex player who’s a WR/TE hybrid. Gadsen lined up in the slot 79.2% of his snaps, out wide 18.3%, and on the LOS only 1.8%. He racked up 969 YDS on 61 receptions last year (15.8 YPC) with 6 TDS and a stellar PFF grade of 82.7.

Syracuse lost their second-leading wide receiver but returned 4 of the top 6. However, it wasn’t the most productive group. The next three leading receivers combined for only 812 yards, trailing Gadsden’s total by over 150 yards.

On Syracuse’s offensive line, the majority of snaps were concentrated to the starting 5 guys. Combined, those five played 3,392 snaps compared to the rest of the roster (25 additional players recorded a snap), which played 932 combined snaps. This is significant because 3 of those 5 starters depart for 2023, leaving them with 47 starts of experience, which ranks 109th.

Those losses include a 2nd team All-ACC left tackle with 40 career starts, a 6th-year center with 44 starts, and a 6th-year right tackle who started 37 games for the Orange. The offensive line obviously took a big hit, losing that much experience, and as we just mentioned, they didn’t play the backups very much, so the newcomers aren’t the most experienced. They brought back both starting guards and added a transfer from Richmond, who is a 5th-year tackle and was 3rd team All-Conference at the FCS level, as well as a depth player from Kentucky.

It certainly appears to be a rebuilding year up front for Syracuse, who was already 74th in rushing offense (with Sean Tucker) and 121st in sacks allowed. Florida State’s talented defensive line should be able to wreak havoc in this game.

Syracuse did little in the portal on offense to fill those deficiencies. They signed an FCS lineman, a lineman who was a depth player, and a freshman QB from South Carolina who has yet to play. Combine that with losing one of the top backs in program history, a rebuilding year up front, and only two returning receivers with over 250 yards of production, and I just don’t see how Syracuse gets better on offense in 2023. FSU could very well have a top-10 defense this year and held a better version of this offense to only 3 points at their place last year. Syracuse did face six top 25 defenses last season which would be tough sledding for most offenses to deal with.

2023 Syracuse Football Schedule

The Cuse defense wasn’t bad last year. They finished 40th in scoring defense at 23.1 PPG and 16th in YPP allowed at 4.91. However, when their defense faced two top-25 offenses last season, they gave up 38 and 45 points to the better competition.

Up front, Cuse lost a 12-game starter at DE and a rotational player who got 200 snaps last season. Cuse runs a 3-3-5 defense, so they primarily use only a nose tackle on the interior. They return their top two players at the position from a year ago and add an Alabama transfer who has yet to play. 

They have some guys with experience, but it’s just not the most talented group. They also don’t have a lot of size on the interior. Their three top defensive tackles are all under 280 pounds. The Bama transfer is the only defensive lineman on the roster over 300 pounds and has zero game experience. Florida State’s offensive line has not only gotten better, but they’ve also gotten bigger. The average weight of the nine guys I feel could be starters or at least significant contributors this year is 314 pounds, which equals a +34-pound advantage for FSU.

The linebacker group at Syracuse was the strength of their defense. They lost 2nd team All-ACC LB Mikel Jones, who was top 3 in tackles, sacks, and TFLs a year ago. However, the rest of the unit returns, including Marlowe Wax (78.6 PFF), who led the team in tackles and TFLs

Syracuse had a top-15 pass defense last season, allowing just 184.8 YPG. However, they took a big hit this offseason, losing CB Garrett Williams to the NFL (7 starts). Meanwhile, CB Duce Chestnut and S Ja’Had Carter, who both started all 12 games last season, hit the portal. (As well as two backups) Chestnut transferred to LSU, so we’ll see him in game one. According to PFF stats, Chestnut allowed 5 receptions on 6 targets for 28 yards and 2 touchdowns against FSU last year.

They do bring back some experienced players, CB Isaiah Johnson (73.7 PFF), CB Jeremiah Wilson (62.9 PFF), S Alijah Clark (54.6 PFF), S Justin Barron (70.3 PFF), and S Jason Simmons Jr. (75.0 PFF) played a combined 2,559 snaps last season. Although inexperienced, they also brought in two Power 5 transfers. While they aren’t fully rebuilding, the secondary’s level of talent and experience is not what it was last season.

On special teams, they lost K Andre Szmyt, the Groza Award winner from 2018.

Syracuse has only managed to put together three winning seasons since joining the ACC ten years ago. Last season, the Orange had one of the best rosters of Babers’ time there, and they still only went 7-6. Many of those top pieces are gone, and Cuse travels to Tallahassee, where they are 0-7 all time.

FSU falls in the middle of a tough three-game stretch for Cuse. They get Clemson at home and then travel to UNC and FSU in consecutive weeks. Cuse could start 4-0 thanks to an easy schedule early on, but like the last meeting, I don’t see this year’s game being particularly close. Thanks for reading! Go Noles!

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