How Can SU Give LSU an L?
If you are a sane, objective follower of football, you have little doubt that Louisiana State University (affectionately known as L.S.U.) will defeat Syracuse University (known as S.U.), giving Syracuse the “L.” Even insane or passionate fans and bloggers are realistic enough to think that Syracuse will not win. Sure, Syracuse can win–especially under the “any given Saturday” logic and our knowledge of historical upsets from Appalachian State to, well, Syracuse’s upset of then #1 Nebraska in 1984. The bigger question is not whether Syracuse can do the nearly impossible, it is how Syracuse can do the nearly impossible.
It is easy to prescribe the formula for any upset–stop the opponent, move the ball, punch it in for TDs, avoid penalties, and win the turnover battle. That applies everywhere. Instead, here are the specific things that must happen in order for Syracuse to upset LSU:
- The Syracuse coaching staff needs to outcoach LSU. This means that Scott Shafer needs to improve his game and clock management. No more foolish timeouts with the clock stopped or the opponent scrambling to get a play off while the clock is running. This means that Tim Lester needs to call plays without Eric Dungey like he did on the first drive without him against Central Michigan, rather that the second half. This means that Chuck Bullough needs to make adjustments in game to keep it from getting away. We saw Lester roll out a pretty good game plan against Florida State last year. Hopefully, the coaches have the plans in place to make this a competitive game and then execute that plan well on gameday (including eschewing those aspects that simply do not work instead of throwing good money after bad).
- The Syracuse defense needs to tackle. Say what you want about coverage issues, the real issue for Syracuse is tackling. Syracuse’s coverage is as good as its pressure on the QB. Syracuse usually has a player close to the ball–the issue is whether that player will make the open field tackle or play the role of the turnstile. Put a single arm out to stop LSU’s Leonard Fournette and that arm will get ripped through like the Black Knight from The Holy Grail. Instead, defenders will need to be in position and maintain that position until they make the tackle or allow others to come finish the job. It is unlikely that Fournette will not eclipse 100 yards. But keeping him from dominating the game moves the LSU offense to rely more on the passing game, where there is at least a chance at LSU faltering.
- The Syracuse offense needs to convert a few touchdowns if/when it gets its few long drives. One would think that LSU will have no trouble getting into the 20’s in points. Thus, to win, Syracuse will need to not only move the ball, but have at least a few drives into the red zone that do not end in FGs. Of course, this is like saying that the best way to win at blackjack is to get a lot of aces and face cards. It is obvious. But red zone proficiency has been an issue for Syracuse in recent years, so maximizing opportunities will be crucial. This is particularly true when it comes down to being deep down the roster with QBs–it is not likely that there will be several long drives.
- No special teams gaffes. As important as productive plays are on special teams, the bare minimum is to avoid any momentum killing long returns. As good as LSU is, you cannot let the special teams add to the scoring mix or set up short fields for the LSU offense. Syracuse’s bend but not break defense will be tested enough as it is.
- Stay in Game For As Long as Possible. All of the pressure is on LSU. So keeping it close for as long as possible benefits the Orange. LSU will want to quiet the crowd and put it away early. Syracuse needs to avoid that. Bumps and bruises seem to hit a lot of star players who suit up here and it can be a game of attrition. And that Dome turf is not as forgiving as most venues. Perhaps LSU will rise to the occasion late in the game or its talent will take over. Or perhaps the sweaty hands in the loud, hot Carrier Dome will cause turnovers and missed passes. A tie game going into the 4th quarter would be outstanding.
If Syracuse can do these things, this game could turn into an “upset special.” Sure, this game is not the season for Syracuse. A loss was expected and a loss with this level of injuries this season is very expected. But a win would do wonders for the program.
North Carolina State started last year 4-0, before limping to a 7-5 regular season finish. The best OOC win was South Florida (although the Confidential is a fan of Georgia Southern) and the conference wins were two 3-9 teams (Syracuse and Wake Forest), as well as 7-5 North Carolina. There were no wins over power teams from a P5 conference. If Syracuse starts 4-0, it will include a win against a team that could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the ACC. The road to a bowl would suddenly be paved, rather than full of potholes.
The Confidential would not advocate taking your rent or grocery money and betting it on Syracuse winning. But do not give up hope yet. There is a formula for victory.
Here my keys to the game:
SU’s best chance to win is very simple: grind-it-out with hard-nosed, northeastern football.
You have to give Doug Marrone credit, he was never afraid to play tough, physical, smashmouth football. Even if the end result were some boring, low-scoring games, opponents including PSU and USC consistently complimented the Orange’s physicality and toughness.
If SU wants to avoid the “L” they need do the same on Saturday. I don’t think anyone expects the Orange’s offensive line to push-around LSU’s front seven, nor will SU be able beat that S-E-C speed to the edges, so it will have to be a combination of power plays, counters, and the option. It may require lining up in the TANK! formation every damn time, but if they can consistently get 3.5 yards per rush and move the chains, then they can stay in the game. Hopefully that can open-up some play action and the passing game.
Keep SU’s defense off the field. As we saw last week, SU’s offense was almost too efficient in the 1st half and the defense was clearly gassed heading into half time and absolutely spent in the 2nd half after a string of 3-and-outs. It’s a wonder the team had enough energy to make a critical stop in OT.
Syracuse’s offense is not going to have worry about being too efficient against LSU, instead they will need to focus on running the ball and controlling the game tempo. Slow-it-down, and don’t take a snap with more than 5 seconds left on the play clock.
Lastly, SU will need to play smart and not play like they are afraid. How many times have we seen FCS teams like Maine or New Hampshire come to the Dome and make ballsy decisions that gain momentum. That doesn’t mean that every play has to be a trick play like the hook-and-ladder or Annexation of Puerto RIco… but it does mean that Shafer cannot be afraid to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the LSU 40 yard line like he did last week.
I was impressed with Cuse today. You made it a tough game with what, your 15th string QB? Defense looked strong. Fournett was the difference.