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Following its bye week, Syracuse will travel to Louisville on Saturday afternoon. The Orange will look to continue their momentum from the past two games — wins against Virginia Tech and Boston College — while the Cardinals are looking to rebound from back-to-back losses against NC State and Clemson.
SU is only slightly higher than Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, as Syracuse has a 2-3 conference record while UL sits at 2-4. The Cardinals have struggled against tougher opponents this season, losing to Wake Forest, NC State and Ole Miss — who were all ranked at the time Louisville played them.
Here’s everything to know about Louisville ahead of its game against Syracuse on Saturday:
Louisville leads 12-7.
Last time they played
Syracuse traveled to Cardinal Stadium last November for one of its final games of the 2020 season. The Orange played one of their worst games of the year, getting shutout 30-0 due to offensive struggles throughout the outing.
Both teams got out to a cold start, and Louisville had only led 3-0 after the first quarter. But the Cardinals put up 17 points in the second quarter, led by touchdown runs from Malik Cunningham and Jalen Mitchell. Cunningham finished the game with 219 passing yards and two total touchdowns.
But it was Louisville’s defense that controlled the game, and the Cardinals took advantage after head coach Dino Babers started freshman JaCobian Morgan at quarterback. Morgan finished the game just 5-of-12 passing for 40 yards and threw an interception. He struggled with pocket awareness, and he was taken down for three sacks. SU’s longest play of the night was just a 20-yard pass from Morgan to Anthony Queeley.
Running back Sean Tucker, though, finished with one of his best games of his true freshman year, finishing with 93 rushing yards on 16 carries — an average of nearly six yards per run. Beyond Tucker, Syracuse was unable to manufacture any offense and was shut out for the first and only time of the season, finishing with its eighth loss of the season.
The Louisville report
UL’s offense runs through its quarterback, Cunningham. The Alabama native leads the ACC in total touchdowns this season (24) and is capable as a runner and passer. Babers compared him to Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, who Syracuse faced earlier this season, saying that Willis is a better passer but Cunningham is much faster and a better runner. Cunningham is UL’s leader rusher with nearly 700 yards this season.
“Malik is unique. I haven’t seen anybody catch him,” Babers said. “He’s one of the most dynamic players in the league.”
Beyond Cunningham, the Cardinals’ main weapons are Mitchell, who has 531 rushing yards this season, and receiver Jordan Watkins, who has two touchdowns this season — including a 76-yard one against NC State.
Defensively, Louisville is in the middle of the pack of the ACC, allowing about 27 points per game, the eighth-best mark in the conference. UL’s defense has struggled against the passing game, allowing the second-worst yards through the air per game. Syracuse’s offense, meanwhile, averages the fewest passing yards per game in the league.
How Syracuse beats Louisville
SU’s main focus defensively will be stopping Cunningham. Babers said the Orange will have to contain the quarterback, getting people to him and trying to hit him as much as possible. If Syracuse can do as good of a job containing Cunningham as it did Willis in September, the Orange can likely leave Kentucky with its sixth win of the season.
Offensively, SU will have to continue to control the clock by running the ball. Garrett Shrader and Sean Tucker will again need strong games for Syracuse to pick up a win. Tucker has only had one game this season with less than 100 rushing yards, and that will have to continue on Saturday.
The Orange will also need to find a strong balance between their running and passing games, as Shrader only threw the ball once in the second half against Boston College and finished that game with another completion percentage under 50%.
Syracuse’s special teams unit has struggled this year, and Andre Szmyt has had five straight games with either a missed extra point or field goal. Saturday’s game will likely be close, and Szmyt can’t afford to miss short field goals like he did against Virginia Tech or last-second field goals like he missed against Clemson.
Player to watch: Malik Cunningham, quarterback
Cunningham is the star Syracuse needs to contain on Saturday. The redshirt junior is a big play machine — he’s the only Louisville quarterback ever to have at least four touchdown passes of at least 75 yards, and he is one of the top running QBs in the country.
Against the Orange in 2019, Cunningham threw for 238 yards — including a 90-yard pass — and ran for 60 more yards, totaling a career-high six touchdowns in the process. It was the first time a UL quarterback had thrown for five TDs since Lamar Jackson in 2016.
Stat to know: 15 sacks
Louisville’s offensive line has allowed only 15 sacks this season, tied for second-best in the ACC. SU’s defense, led by defensive lineman Cody Roscoe, has been the league’s top unit at rushing the quarterback this season. But it will have a test against the Cardinals’ offensive line unit, which is one of the best the Orange will face this season.
The post Opponent Preview: Everything to know about Louisville appeared first on The Daily Orange.