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Know Thy Opponent 2022: Syracuse Orange

Purdue hads to upstate New York for a road trip.

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NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in quite a while I will probably not be able to track a game live, and that is this game. My youngest nephew (sadly, an IU grad, but Indiana-Kokomo at least) is getting married on the day of the Syracuse game and I am in the wedding. It is safe to say that I have more important things to do that day, but I am happy to miss most of a game.

I am still excited about these home-and-home series we have set up outside of the Big Ten schedule though. It is always exciting to see new opponents and visit new venues. This game has the unique character of being the first indoor game for Purdue since the 2017 game against Louisville at Lucas Oil Stadium (and the roof might have been open for that).

There might be some confusion as to if this is the back end or a front end of a home and home. Purdue opened the 2004 season with a 51-0 thrashing of Syracuse at Ross-Ade Stadium in what was the first meeting between the schools. This game is not part of that contract, however, as the Orange are scheduled to return to Purdue next season. The 2004 game was actually part of a trade, as we were originally supposed to play Cincinnati in the back end of a home-and-home with the Bearcats that started in 2001. At the time, Cincinnati was making a move from Conference USA to the Big East (which was a football thing that existed), and they wanted a Big East opponent, so they somehow got Syracuse to switch in and fulfill their spot. We then completed a second home-and-home with Cincinnati in 2013 and 2016 which went… poorly. Purdue lost both games by a combined 63 points to a team coached by a current U.S. Senator.

Yes, that last sentence is 100% true, somehow.

So that is kind of how we got here. We now get a road game against an ACC opponent that should be a pretty good test. It is Purdue’s first road game against a Power 5 team since going to Missouri in 2017, and that went very well. This is also Purdue’s first game at an ACC opponent since a 16-10 at Wake Forest in 2003.

Syracuse Orange

2021 Record: 5-7, 2-6 ACC

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0

Last Purdue win: 51-0 at Purdue on 9/5/2004

Last Syracuse win: None

Head Coach: Dino Babers (29-43 in 7th season at Syracuse, 66-59 overall)

Last Season for the Orange

It has been an up and down tenure for Dino Babers at Syracuse. The peak was in 2018, where the Orange went 10-3 with a bowl win and a final top 15 ranking. That is the only time in his six seasons they have made a bowl game, however. Just two seasons later they finished a dismal 1-10 in the weird COVID year of 2020, beating only Georgia Tech in the third game of the season.

Last year was more of a rebound. They opened with a road win at Ohio before losing at home to Rutgers 17-7. They would go on to just miss a bowl at 5-7, but had several close calls. They lost by three to Florida State and a very good Wake Forest team to overtime before losing by 3. They also had a three point loss to Clemson, completing a frustrating three week stretch where they lost all three games by nine points total. They were able to rebound with wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College, but they close the year with a three-game losing streak, all by 17 points or more.

That brings us to 2022, where Babers is listed as one of the top 10 coaches on a hot seat. He is still under water in year seven, which is not good. Our own Jeff Brohm put a fire extinguisher to his own warm seat last season, so Babers needs to do the same. He does have a history against Purdue. At Bowling Green his Falcons walked into Ross-Ade and won 35-28 on a late touchdown in 2015.

Syracuse Offense

Purdue faced some of the worst passing teams in the country last season and Syracuse is right there with them. They finished 122nd in passing out of 130 FBS teams. That would have them as the worst passing game of any of last season’s opponents, which is saying something. Illinois (121), Wisconsin (120), Minnesota (118), UConn (116), Indiana (113), Northwestern (111), and Iowa (109) all struggled to throw the ball last year and played Purdue. As a team Syracuse had 1,836 yards passing in 12 games and only 10 touchdowns. They did only have 6 interceptions, but there were only two games where they threw for 200 yards. They were held under 100 a whopping five times. By comparison, Purdue threw for 4,619 yards between Aidan O’Connell and Jack Plummer. Plummer played significantly in just four games and was still less than 1,000 yards from Syracuse’s team total.

Needless to say, this is a run first team. They have good reason to run first as Sean Tucker ran for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman last year. He outrushed Purdue by himself by more than 400 yards. He had success in the option game with quarterback Garrett Shrader, who ran for 781 yards and 14 scores. Shrader was also the team’s top passer with 1,445 yards and nine TDs against four picks.

Courtney Jackson was the team’s leading receiver with 37 receptions for 389 yards and three scores. That would have had him as Purdue’s sixth best receiver. Matthew Bergeron is a fourth year starter at tackle and an honorable mention all-ACC selection, but Syracuse gave up 37 sacks as a team. Needless to say, this is a clash of offensive styles. Syracuse was the No. 16 team in the country in running the ball, while Purdue was 127th.

Syracuse Defense

With a team near .500 the defensive statistics are often pretty close to the offensive ones, and that is what we see here. Syracuse gave up 26.33 points per game and had some really strong efforts. Losing only 17-14 to a power like Clemson is a strong defensive effort. They also sat on Boston College in a 21-6 win and held Ohio to nine points. Late in the year the defense faltered. They gave up 41 each to Louisville and NC State and 31 to Pitt in the final three games.

Linebacker Mikel Jones was a Second Team all-ACC selection and had 110 total tackles to go with 13 for loss and four sacks. He is an excellent piece to build around, and Stefon Thompson gives them another good linebacker, as he had 79 tackles and six sacks. Marlowe Wax was the no. 3 tackler on the team with 60 tackles and five sacks, so they return all three starting linebackers and all three are adept at getting in the backfield.

Garrett Williams and Darian Chestnut are two very good corners that will be put to the test by Purdue’s passing game. Williams had 52 tackles and 10 pass breakups a year ago. Chestnut was a Third Team all-ACC selection with 43 tackles, eight breakups, and three interceptions.

Even with the late struggles, the defense was the second best in the ACC last year. This team was not that far off from an 8-4 season, either. The defense only forced seven turnovers all season, so to be successful they have to bring that number up.

Syracuse Special Teams

Andre Szmyt was 9 of 14 on field goals last season and had a game-tying attempt late against Clemson that missed. He is still very good and even won the Lou Groza award as a freshman in 2018 by going an impressive 30 of 34 on Syracuse’s 10 win team. He was 17 of 20 the next year and is 65 of 79 for his career with a long of 54. The punting game struggled to less than 37 yards per kick, much like Purdue.

In addition to being the team’s top receiver, Courtney Jackson was able to return a punt for a touchdown. Trebor Pena was the main returner though, and he averaged 24 yards per kickoff return.

Game Outlook

These non-conference road games are always interesting because it is a different atmosphere than most of these guys are used to seeing. For a while when Notre Dame was on the schedule it was even more unique, but now once a year we get to play in a place we either haven’t seen before or haven’t seen in a long time.

Syracuse is a good challenge, too. They have the running game to control the clock and their defensive back seven is very experienced. They won’t shrink from the challenge of our high octane passing attack. I think this is a little bit like the Boston College game from 2018. That was a run-first mediocre ACC team with an all-world running back and Purdue was able to shut them down pretty well. Of course, we also had a Rondale Moore in that game, which helped a lot.

If Syracuse’s defense plays like it did early last season they have a real shot in this one.

Way-too-early Prediction

I think this one stays relatively close throughout. Purdue did well at UConn last year, but that was UConn. History has often not been kind to Purdue in non-conference road games, as it is 2-11 since 2007 in non-conference games played outside of Ross-Ade. Both wins have come in convincing fashion under Jeff Brohm by a combined score of 84-3. I can see Purdue’s offense struggling, but if the run defense shows up we should be okay. Purdue 24, Syracuse 17