Liberty heads on the road for the first of three matchups with an ACC opponent Saturday against Syracuse, and that means a familiar staple returns with the weekly Q&A with an opposing beat writer to help preview the Flames’ matchup. Chris Carlson of The Post-Standard in Syracuse, New York, stops by to answer five questions about Syracuse. For his coverage of the Orange, follow him on Twitter: @ccarlsononSU.
Now onto the Q&A:
N&A: The status of quarterback Tommy DeVito is up in the air following the injury he suffered last week against Duke. If DeVito can't go, who is the likely replacement and will the offense look any different?
CC: I think it's highly unlikely DeVito plays. Dino Babers plays things pretty close to the vest on injuries but he usually doesn't mislead anyone by overplaying the severity. When he said it doesn't look good on Saturday, that's a big deal. Expect backup quarterback Rex Culpepper to be under center. Culpepper is a senior who can run the offense and should be able to rally his teammates after the demoralizing Duke loss. He has had a remarkable college experience that includes beating testicular cancer. He isn't nearly as accurate a thrower as DeVito, so I'd expect routes to be shorter and Syracuse to commit itself to trying to run the ball more than it usually would. That might have been the case against Liberty anyway.
N&A: How does the loss of All-American safety Andre Cisco impact the defense?
CC: Cisco is known primarily for his ball-hawking skills and Syracuse's 3-3-5 was a nice fit for him because he could play centerfield and break on the ball. Rather than an All-American playing that spot, the Orange will be rolling with true freshman Rob Hanna. Rather than picking on Hanna through the air, Duke was able to beat Syracuse largely by running. Having a youngster at that spot, rather than an older player, certainly doesn't help against the run or pass game.
N&A: What can you contribute to the Orange's uneven start to the season?
CC: Syracuse's offensive line was horrible last year and any hopes of major improvements took two heavy blows early. Returning starting guard Dakota Davis was injured during the preseason and Florida transfer guard Chris Bleich was one of the rare players who had their transfer waiver denied by the NCAA this offseason. That left Chris Elmore, a converted fullback/tight end/defensive tackle, as the best option as a starting offensive lineman. Not good. The lack of a line left DeVito prone to getting hit too often and the defense on the field much too long. Injuries have followed.
N&A: Liberty coach Hugh Freeze spoke highly of Syracuse's defensive line during his Monday press conference, and Liberty fans saw how disruptive ends Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman were. Who are some linemen to keep an eye out for Saturday?
CC: If I had to guess, I think Freeze's comments were aimed more at Syracuse's switch to a 3-3-5 defensive scheme this offseason than the personnel. The new scheme includes a lot of twisting and stunting from the defensive line in an effort to confuse the offense and create openings for blitzing linebackers. Linebacker Mikel Jones is the most disruptive and will move around, rushing from spots on the line and from deep as a linebacker. Among the linemen, senior Kingsley Jonathan has been the most disruptive.
N&A: What are your keys for Syracuse to pick up the victory against Liberty?
CC: The biggest thing Syracuse needs to do is shake off a really horrible start to the season and the growing reality that it's probably not going to finish the way they would like. In addition to the bad record, the Orange has likely lost its two most irreplaceable pieces in DeVito and Cisco. It would be human to surrender. So Syracuse needs to start by rallying together and shaking off those bad feelings. From an actual football standpoint, the Orange is going to need to be able to run the ball with its running backs. Sean Tucker was dinged up at the end of the Duke game but the true freshman has been pretty effective over the last two games. There's reason to think Syracuse could follow that path to victory.
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