USA Today Sports
Five Syracuse Players To Watch
Senior weakside linebacker Parris Bennett — The 6-foot, 216-pounder leads Syracuse with 29 tackles in four games. Bennett had a season-high 12 tackles, plus three tackles for loss, a safety and a pass breakup in last Saturday’s 35-26 loss at LSU. He earned ACC Linebacker of the Week honors for his effort. He has nine career games with at least 10-plus tackles, including 17 against Notre Dame last year, and has tallied 187 career tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss.
Junior quarterback Eric Dungey — The injury-prone quarterback missed the last two matchups against NC State, but is healthy now. He has gone 105-of-165 passing (63.6 percent completion rate) for 1,052 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions in Syracuse's first four games. The 6-4, 22-pounder has also been an active runner with 52 carries for 233 yards and five scores. He passed for 279 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards and a score in the 41-17 win over Central Michigan on Sept. 16.
Senior middle linebacker Zaire Franklin — The 6-0, 236-pounder is second on the squad with 21 tackles this season and has 247 tackles in his career. Franklin has started 31 straight contests and posted a career-high 14 tackles in two different games, including against Clemson last year.
Redshirt sophomore punter Sterling Hofrichter — He ranks third in the ACC and ninth in the NCAA with a 46.3-yard average on 21 punts, with a long of 64. He has 98 career punts for a 43.5-yard average and has had one blocked. He also made a 27-yard field goal this season. He was added to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented to college football's best punter.
Senior wide receiver Steve Ishmael — The Orange offense seems to always have a prolific receiving threat (or two), and Ishmael is approaching last year’s statistics in just four games. The 6-2, 209-pounder has 45 receptions for 512 yards and a touchdown this season, topping at least 116 yards in all four contests. HIs 128-yards-per-geme average ranks sixth in the nation..Ishmael had 48 catches for 559 yards and a score last year.
Three Keys To The Game
Tackle in space: Syracuse uses its short passing game as a way to make up for the lack of a ground game.
The short passing game is needed because running backs Dontae Strickland, a junior, and sophomore Moe Neal are averaging less than 34 rushing yards per game. Neal, a Gastonia, N.C., native who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has 127 rushing yards, is also a factor in the passing game, with seven receptions for 95 yards and a score.
NC State cornerbacks Johnathan Alston, a fifth-year senior, and sophomore Nick McCloud will both get plenty of opportunities in tackling Ishmael and Phillips on a variety of quick passes. LSU got a pick-six by jumping on a Dungey short pass to start the game last Saturday.
Giving quarterback Ryan Finley plenty of time: Syracuse has four sacks in four games, with two coming against LSU. The Orange was aggressive in blitzing and redshirt junior nose tackle Kayton Samuels had one of the sacks against LSU.
Former Mebane (N.C.) Eastern Alamance defensive end Kingsley Jonathan (who went by Jonathan Kingsley in high school) has a sack on the season, but it’s clear that having a consistent pass rush has been problematic.
NC State has allowed eight sacks in 163 passing attempts. Redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley is calm in the pocket and spreads the ball around when he gets the time, which has been the majority of the season. NC State offensive line has only struggled in protecting Finley in the second half of the South Carolina game.
Shore up special teams: NC State redshirt junior kicker Carson Wise made two short field goals against Florida State last week.
Florida State continued one trend and also set up a potential new worry. Redshirt sophomore safety Derwin James returned one kickoff 49 yards to the NC State 40-yard line. Kickoff return coverage has been worrisome all season, highlighted by South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel taking one to the house on the first kickoff of the season.
Florida State defensive end Brian Burns was the No. 65 overall player in the class of 2016, and he flashed his considerable potential on defense and special teams. He was able to cleanly block junior punter A.J. Cole III’s attempt late in the fourth quarter. FSU took over at NC State’s 23-yard line but could only manage a field goal to cut the Wolfpack lead to 27-21.
Three Questions With Syracuse Head Coach Dino Babers
How do you think the offensive tackles will handle blocking NC State star senior defensive end Bradley Chubb?
“How about this for an answer: IDK [which means I don’t know]. That guy can really go. We were playing last week [Arden] Key, the defensive end for LSU, who's supposed to be the fourth or fifth pick in the draft, and I'm looking at Chubb on film, and I think he's better.
"The guy is flying all over the field. He's stout. He's ripping the ball out 10, 12 yards down the field, making plays on backs. He's very, very active, and he's very, very good. I'm not sure we've seen better so far.”
What helped the team continue to battle LSU last week?
“We have two heartbeats. You've got [linebacker] Zaire Franklin on defense, and you've got [quarterback] Eric Dungey on offense, and those guys play very passionately, sometimes too passionately. Sometimes they need to keep it under control so they can operate at a high manner and a high level. But there's no doubt that those two individuals want to win in the worst way, and they're fantastic competitors.”
What is your general feeling about NC State’s win over Florida State last week?
“Coach Dave [Doeren] has done a fantastic job with NC State, outstanding defense, outstanding offense, fabulous win. That win over Florida State at Florida State, I'm watching it on tape, and that's really something. You think about somebody that's been there five years, a MAC coach in the ACC Atlantic in the fifth year of his program, and to get a win like that is something really special.
“It just goes to show what happens when you take your time and build it from the bottom and do it right. We know they're going to be an outstanding opponent. We know the game is going to be extremely difficult.”
Three Questions With NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren
What led you to want redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Finley when he was transferring from Boise State after graduating a year ago?
“We had a depth issue at the time, and we needed an experienced quarterback to compete with Jalan [McClendon]. At the time we didn't know he would beat Jalan out. We're completely confident in Jalan and still are.
“There were several grad quarterbacks lurking around that we knew about, and we had conversations with multiple players. Ryan was the one that after he visited and he visited other schools as well, that we just felt like he was a great fit. He knew our offense. He knew [offensive coordinator] Coach [Eli] Drinkwitz, and we needed to have two guys. Because even if Jalan would have won the job, it's hard to stay healthy and not have someone behind him.”
How has Finley improved since last year?
“ I think the stats tell you. He's thrown over 70 percent. Last year he was in the 60s. He takes care of the football. He's gained 15 pounds, so he's a more durable player, can take hits and run better.
“The chemistry he has with his offensive personnel is different. He knows those guys and they know him, and he's had a whole year to work with them in the offseason program and summer program.”
How do you prepare for the speed of Syracuse’s offensive attack in terms of them running no-huddle?
“It's a challenge. Syracuse outscores people in the first quarter by 20-something points, maybe 25 points. Just getting the guys ready for how fast it comes at them is challenging. We've got two offensive scout teams from a skill standpoint that rotate every snap. They're waiting on the ball for the defense to get lined up. That's the best you can do.”
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