Boston College - Syracuse Preview
Why can't we schedule Syracuse in September? That is the question that most Eagle fans ask every year after the Orangemen get off to their typical slow start to the season. Like many other years, the Eagles will face a Syracuse team playing their best football of the season in November. Over the past seven years, Syracuse has lost at least two of their first four games six times. By contrast, the Orange are 19-6 in November over that time (17-2 if you exclude games against Miami). The Eagles have lost five of the last seven against Syracuse, including last year's 39-28 loss in the Carrier Dome. The Orangemen torched the BC defense for 575 yards of total offense on that day. This year, the Eagles find themselves in a must-win situation as the unexpectedly strong performances by Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and West Virginia have left the Eagles on the Bowl game bubble. Unless Notre Dame upsets USC in Los Angeles on November 30th and sneaks into a BCS slot, BC will almost certainly need to wait for an at-large bowl invite. The Eagles can make a strong case for that if they can win their final three games and finish the regular season at 8-4 and 3-4 in the Big East. However, there must be a spot available for the Eagles to take.
When Boston College Passes
If there is ever an opportunity for Brian St. Pierre (or "Pierre" as ESPN's Bob Davie repeatedly called him last week) to have a breakout game, this is it. The Syracuse pass defense is nothing short of abysmal. The Orange are ranked 115th among 117 Division 1A teams, surrendering a whopping 297 yards per game through the air. Last week against Syracuse, Virginia Tech QB Bryan Randall threw for 505 yards and 5 TD's on only 23 completions. Keep in mind that Randall completed four passes in the entire game against BC and hadn't thrown for more than 194 yards all year. The Orangemen do have some talent in the secondary, including Senior corner "Good" Will Hunter (66 tackles, 8 passes broken up) and Freshman Steven Gregory. Gregory has had an amazing rookie season collecting 46 tackles, 2 INT's, 2 fumble recoveries and an exceptional 16 passes broken up.
Despite the talents of Gregory, this should be easy pickings for Brian St. Pierre and the BC offense, especially if BC can establish a running game early.
Advantage: Boston College
When Boston College Runs
To be perfectly blunt, the Syracuse defense is horrible. In fact, horrible may be too kind. They have surrendered an average of 32 points per game and have given up 400 or more total yards in 8 of 10 games this season. In five of those games, they surrendered 500 or more yards. Against the run, the Orangemen are ranked 74th nationally. There are a couple of bright spots in the front seven, however. The big run stopper is Senior linebacker Clifton Smith, who has 118 tackles, 14 of which are for lost yardage. The Syracuse pass rush is also potent at times led by 285 pound defensive tackle Louis Gachelin, who has 8.5 sacks among his 15 tackles for lost yardage. Junior linebacker Jameel Dumas has also contributed with 72 tackles this season.
Derrick Knight was shut down for the first time all season against West Virginia and I suspect that he will be out for a little redemption this week. Knight needs just 82 yards to become the latest in a long list of BC running backs to reach the 1,000 yard plateau. Look for Knight to top 1,000 and possibly 1,100 yards this week.
Advantage: Boston College
When Syracuse Passes
The Syracuse passing game, which was dormant for most of the season, caught fire last week against Virginia Tech. Senior quarterback Troy Nunes threw for 402 yards in a game in which the Orangemen scored 50 points (15 of those in OT). Also awakening from a long slumber was David Tyree who caught 9 passes for 229 yards. Tyree became the 3rd Orangeman to have 200 or more yards receiving in a single game. Nunes has been very effective since taking over full-time after the failures of R.J. Anderson. Nunes has completed 62% of his passes for 1,061 yards with 7 TD's and 5 INT's. Though Tyree should probably be BC's biggest fear on the Syracuse offense, Junior Jamel Riddle has had a better year. The 5'7" wideout has caught 35 passes for 559 yards this season.
This will be an interesting matchup and is probably the closest to call. This would have been a clear advantage for the Eagles two months ago, but Nunes and his receivers undressed a pretty good Virginia Tech secondary last week. I suspect that if Syracuse can run the ball effectively on first down, they will have a clear advantage in this matchup. Judging by the health of the BC front seven, I would say that is very likely.
When Syracuse Runs
There is no doubt as to the strength of the 2002 Orangemen. Like West Virginia a week ago, Syracuse features a great running game with two effective running backs. The unheralded Sophomore Walter Reyes has quietly had a sensational season, rushing for 930 yards on 153 carries (a 6.1 average) and 15 touchdowns. When Reyes isn't running over defenders, the Cuse can hand the ball to Junior Damien Rhodes. Rhodes has rushed for 497 yards on 109 carries. Do the math and you will see that the two backs have combined for 1,427 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games. Reyes and Rhodes are very comparable to the duo of Cobourne and Wilson who ran over the Eagles for 235 yards (5.5 ypc) last week.
The good news is that Nunes will not be as much of a running threat as Rasheed Marshall (or Rasheed "Wallace" as ESPN's Bob Davie called him last week) so the Eagles will not be under as much pressure to keep the quarterback from running. The bad news is that, like 2000, the injuries on the defensive side of the ball are starting to take its toll on the Eagles. The Eagle front seven played admirably against the average running attacks of Pitt and Notre Dame, but could not stop a great West Virginia backfield. I expect more of the same this week, especially if linebacker Brian Flores is not able to play.
The Syracuse special teams unit is, more or less, average. Sophomore kicker Colin Barber is only 9 of 16 on field goals, though his is 8 of 11 inside of 40 yards and has made 5 of his last 6 attempts. Senior Punter Mike Schafer averages an uninspiring though adequate 39.1 yards per punt. Damien Rhodes and Steven Gregory will handle the punt returning duties. The duo is averaging 22.9 and 22.5 yards per return, respectively. The one area on special teams where the Orangemen are dangerous is punt returns. Jamel Riddle is currently 14th in the nation, averaging 14.2 yards per return.
The Eagle kicking game has been a serious problem in recent weeks. At the same time, the once impressive kick/punt return averages of Jamal Burke and Will Blackmon have declined. The Eagles could certainly use some big plays on Saturday. I suspect that special teams will play less of a role than they have in recent weeks simply because these offenses will be putting the ball in the endzone more often, but as we all know, any game can come down to a late field goal and both kicking games have been shaky in 2002.
The Eagles should have two major things going for them on Saturday: the home field advantage and the fact that have something to play for. It has been a long time since the Eagles lost to anyone not named Virginia Tech or Miami at home and I'm sure they don't want that streak to end against their rivals to the West. The Orangemen "opened up a can" on the Eagle defense last year and many of those players (the few healthy ones that remain) will be looking for retribution this season. Unlike Syracuse, BC also has bowl aspirations. Though the Eagles may be on the outside looking in in terms of a Big East bowl slot, they would be near the top of many wish lists if they can finish 8-4 and if at-large bids become available.
Defense has been king in recent weeks, but I expect that trend to reverse itself this week. Syracuse's defense has been putrid this year and BC's defense is showing signs of weakening as the injuries mount. The key for both teams will be stopping the run and trying to gain some control of the line of scrimmage. For the Eagles, a solid effort against the run would probably lead to great things as their highly-rated secondary has performed well this season when the opponent has been forced into passing situations. For the Orangemen, stopping the run is critical because their secondary couldn't cover a golf ball with a parachute. If the BC offense can consistently get 2nd and 5 / 3rd and 2 situations, they should peel the Oranges rather easily. Also, as was the case the past two weeks, a good start will be important to the Eagles. Two weeks ago, the Eagles were able to get out to a lead against Notre Dame which set the tone for the entire ballgame. Last week, West Virginia took a big lead early, which took Derrick Knight out of the game and allowed West Virginia to do what they do best - run the ball. Syracuse has been poor in the first quarter (outscored 79-54) and the Eagles need to take advantage of that. I think they will.
Final Score: Boston College 35 Syracuse 31
Name this Movie Sound - answer below
By the way, the sound file is Adam Sandler in Big Daddy