The vibes are good in Chapel Hill as Carolina football emerges from the bye week 4-0 and ready to welcome a Syracuse team that just lost to Clemson at home. The Orange were crushed by a resurgent Clemson defense and an offense able to exploit space deep in the secondary.
So, no more battle between unbeatens. What should we expect from Syracuse? It’s the first meeting between the two schools since Sam Howell and the Tar Heels handily beat the Orange 31-6 on a sunny day at Kenan. Could we see more of the same?
Garrett Shrader is precisely the type of quarterback that has given Mack 2.0’s Carolina teams trouble. He is a competent thrower and a dangerous runner. He’s Syracuse’s second leading rusher behind starting tailback LeQuint Allen (363 yards) with 340 rushing yards. They’ve each rushed for six touchdowns.
Clemson and their slow-starting defensive line (only four sacks through four games) came alive in the
Carrier JMA Wireless Dome, sacking Shrader five times. They were also able to lay some wood on him downfield, forcing Shrader to cough up a fumble after he initially ran for a first down in Syracuse’s first possession of the game. That was a tone setter that a go-getter like Cedric Gray would do well to emulate.
If Shrader is given time in the pocket, he can make throws downfield. If he’s given space to run into, he can easily get cheap first downs, and touchdowns if the gaps are big enough. Carolina needs to get pressure on him and not let him hit easy throws on three-step drops.
Clemson had a lot of success throwing vertically against the Orange. Who has a bigger and more accurate arm than Cade Klubnik? Drake Maye . But who is potentially missing downfield threat Gavin Blackwell, and will be adjusting to the unexpected addition of Tez Walker to the active roster? Drake Maye
Up to the fore is J.J. Jones. The 6’2” junior from Myrtle Beach was outstanding against Pitt, grabbing six catches for 117 yards (five of them for first downs), including a 52-yarder. If he can stretch the field against Syracuse, he’ll pick at a scab left by some sharp Tiger claws, and continuing his form could mean less pressure on Tez Walker to get up to speed in his first game as a Tar Heel
Besides attacking a weakness of the Orange defense, hitting Jones deep may open up some running room underneath for Omarion Hampton and British Brooks. Minnesota and Pitt both had physical defensive lines, and Carolina has missed the run-blocking of Coastal Carolina transfer guard Willie Lampkin (out for the past two games with injury), so it’s understandable that the Heels haven’t run the ball like they did against App State. But if Syracuse is forced to play deep safeties, it could open up the box for some meatier run opportunities.
Prediction: UNC 35, Syracuse 24