Plant The Spear

FSU vs Syracuse Preview and Prediction

By the numbers

Another Saturday, another sold-out home game at Doak Campbell Stadium. The fourth-ranked Seminoles will face off against Syracuse as they look to start 6-0 for the first time since 2015.

FSU is currently a 17.5-point favorite and holds a 13-2 record all-time vs Cuse. The Orange have never won in Tallahassee and the Noles will be determined to defend Doak again on Saturday.

Syracuse is following a similar trajectory to how their season unfolded last year. They got off to a hot start after beating up on a handful of bad teams before hitting the meat of their schedule and things quickly coming unraveled.

Last year they started 6-0 but ended the season 1-6. This season they started 4-0 after beating teams with a current combined record of 7-15 but have since dropped their last two games in blowout fashion against the only good competition they have played (UNC & Clemson).

Given the level FSU has been playing at, I feel the best way to assess Cuse is to separate and compare what the Orange did in their last two games. Clemson and UNC are a lot closer to what they’ll face in Tallahassee than what they saw in the first 4 games and the numbers tell two entirely different stories.

For example, their points per game drops from 33 to 10.5, and points allowed climbs from 19 to 35.5. As you can see that’s quite a difference once they played a team with a pulse.

In this game, FSU has the edge in talent and coaching, and will also have home-field advantage. If they just play their game and limit the mistakes that would let a lesser team hang around (like a 99-yard kickoff return), they should be able to win comfortably. After all, they beat a better Syracuse team at their place by 35 points last year.

Offensive preview

The heart of the Syracuse offense is quarterback Garrett Shrader, who has come a long way since taking over the starting role. His passing has improved with experience, but it’s his running ability that makes him dangerous. He’s a big bruising runner at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, and during his last trip to Tallahassee, he ran for 143 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Last season, the Noles did a great job of keeping Shrader in check limiting him to only 95 total yards. He did run for over 200 yards in their win over Purdue but has not hit the 100-yard mark in any other games this season. Shrader is averaging 6.4 YPC (sack adjusted) so far this year.

However, in the last two games against better defenses that number drops to 4.1 YPC with zero touchdowns. His rushing yards are split rather evenly between designed runs and scramble yards, so the defense will have to stay disciplined against yet another dual-threat quarterback.

Shrader has accounted for 1,272 yards through the air so far this season with a 65% completion percentage. He’s thrown for 8 touchdowns and 5 Interceptions. However, the same theme of racking up stats against bad competition follows here too. Half of his passing touchdowns came in week one against Colgate, a 1-4 FCS team. He’s only thrown for multiple touchdowns in one other game this year. Syracuse averages 248 YPG, but against Power 5 teams that number drops to 161 YPG.

Florida State’s secondary played well last week limiting Virginia Tech to just 104 passing yards and didn’t allow a single pass completion over 10 yards. Shrader has been sacked 14 times this season and thrown an interception in all but one game. I feel good about the Seminole defense being able to get after Shrader and keep this passing offense in check. At the same time, I think you want to force Syracuse to beat you through the air because I don’t think they can.

At running back, the Orange had the tall task of replacing All-American Sean Tucker. LeQuint Allen has stepped in to fill the role and leads the team with 401 yards. He’s currently averaging 4.61 YPC, but that average drops to 4.01 YPC against Power 5 teams. Allen has speed and does work catching out of the backfield. While FSU has had its struggles stopping mobile quarterbacks, they have done a great job of limited running backs this season. UNC held Allen to just 38 yards (3.5 YPC) last week.

At receiver, there aren’t any names that jump out at you. Unfortunately, for Cuse, their best pass catcher Oronde Gadsden II was lost for the season after an injury. Umari Hatcher, Donovan Brown, and Damien Alford are their top 3 guys.

While they have been productive, Cuse only managed to throw for 310 combined yards in the past two games despite having 57 total pass attempts.

When Syracuse faced the two best defenses through their first 6 games (UNC & Clemson), they scored on just 3 of 25 drives, which is… well, not great. Florida State’s defense looked good last week holding VT to only 10 offensive points that probably would have been 3 or less if not for blown calls. They should be able to carry that momentum into the Syracuse game this week.

Defensive preview

The Syracuse defense has played pretty well this year when you look at the overall picture. They rank in the upper half of college football in the majority of defensive categories. They play an aggressive style of defense that likes to blitz and create chaos and because of that, they are top 15 in sacks, TFLs, and takeaways.

However, keeping the same theme with evaluating their first 4 games vs the last two the numbers tell a different story on defense too. In their first four games, they allowed an average of just 10.6 PPG whereas in the last two, that number jumped to 35.5 PPG.

The only offense they have faced in the top 60 in yards per play (UNC) averaged 6.23 YPP compared to their season average of 4.79 YPP. Speaking of the UNC game, the Tarheels scored on 8 of their 10 drives with the other two being a fumble and a kneel-down sequence. (Take notes Miami) For reference, UNC’s offense is ranked 9th in OF+ (opponent-adjusted) ratings and FSU’s is at 12th, so they are pretty comparable.

If FSU can account for the pressure that Syracuse brings, I’m confident they can have a successful day against this defense. Cuse blitzed UNC on 51.7% of its dropbacks last week, so they are going to bring some heat. However, that aggressive defense comes with its risks as they are also 88th in passing defense allowing 241 YPG.

Sometimes teams will play that style of defense to compensate for a lack of talent. They must try and change the game with havoc plays and sometimes it works in their favor. With enough time, Jordan should be able to pick apart their secondary. While he hasn’t always racked up big yardage totals, Jordan has been an efficient passer this season.

Syracuse has been good against the run in every game except UNC when they allowed over 200 yards on the ground. FSU finally found some success last week against a terrible VT run defense, but that should give them some confidence going forward. I expect to see a balanced attack on Saturday and feel good about the Noles keeping their streak of scoring 30+ points intact.

Final Thoughts

Florida State got off to a fast start last week jumping out to a 22-0 lead over VT. Then we saw an ugly second quarter that allowed the Hokies to get back in it before FSU did what they do and won the second half like they have all season.

This team has stretches of hot and cold that can be both exciting and frustrating to watch, but they keep improving week-over-week. Now that they are in the part of the schedule where they face more middle-tier teams, I think we’ll see that improvement continue and numbers will follow.

As I mentioned before, Florida State beat a better Syracuse team by 35 points at their place last year. Cuse has had no less than 6 penalties in a game this season and multiple turnovers in the past two games. When we look at how they performed against teams on a similar level as FSU, it’s hard not to see how FSU “should” run away with this one.

Syracuse is no doubt a hard place to win, and Dino Babers has been known to lead the Orange to pull off some upsets. They have a mobile quarterback and an aggressive defense. There is certainly a path to them making this one a game, but I just don’t see it happening on the road in a sold-out Doak Campbell Stadium.

I think there will be some garbage time in this game and when combined with two teams that like to run the ball, and the new clock rules, that could change how the final score looks. I have the Noles enjoying a tall glass of fresh-squeezed Orange juice on Saturday with a score of around 38-17! Thanks for reading and Go Noles!

Staff Selection (Michael Hinton)

Syracuse comes into the game off a 40-7 road beatdown at the hand of 12th-ranked North Carolina. That beatdown followed a 31-14 loss at home to Clemson. When you look at Syracuse’s games against Power Five opponents this season, they’ve given up 91 total points while only scoring 56. Doing the math equates to an average game score of 30.3 – 18.6 in P5 games (1 win versus 2 losses). 

Reality has set in for Dino Babers and his team that those early season cupcake games did no favors in preparing them for the back half of their P5 schedule. They do bring their aggressive defense into this game. A defense currently ranked 14th in the nation in sacks (18) and 11th in the country in takeaways (12). They will blitz you from all angles and areas, so FSU and the offense must be prepared to see some exotic blitzes and coverages.

Former Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader runs Syracuse’s offense. A 30-game starter for the Cuse, Shrader has had his ups and downs. He comes into the game having thrown for 8 TDs vs 5 INTs. But where he can really hurt a team is in the run game. Averaging 5.2 yards per carry, Shrader can extend plays or take it upon himself to generate offense to the tune of 6 rushing TDs. He rushed for 195 yards against Purdue back in September. He’s another mobile QB for Adam Fuller and the Noles’ defense to deal with. 

With all that being said, I expect Florida State, much like it did vs. Virginia Tech, and what it should have done against Boston College, to come out and shut down the running game, establish the run, hit some big plays, and put this game away by the 3rd quarter. I have the Noles winning 35-17

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