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UConn Football Opponent Preview: Syracuse

The Huskies head north to take on an old Big East rival.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

There were many displays of ineptitude during the Bob Diaco era, but to me, the Syracuse game in 2016 is forever burned in my mind. While the Huskies hung around for a 31-24 loss at the Rent, the game was dominated by senior Amba Etta-Tawo, who torched the UConn defense for 270 yards on 12 receptions. Throughout the game, Etta-Tawo was getting open at will, and while the score seemed close, the way the Orange’s offense was running made it clear that the lead was never truly in danger.

A lot has changed for UConn since then, though, and now the Huskies have a chance at redemption when they head up to the Carrier Dome and collect a $350,000 check to play a school with only one men’s basketball championship.

2017 Season in Review

Head coach Dino Babers and the Orange started out relatively well in 2017, going 4-4 with some impressive wins over Pitt and defending national champion Clemson, who was No. 2 in the country at the time. From there, it unraveled, as Cuse finished the season 0-4 and Babers all-time record in November at Syracuse fell to 0-8.

Syracuse choking down the stretch? Crazy, I know.

Key Departures

On offense, the Orange lost two of their top receivers in Steve Ishmael and Ervin Phillips. This duo combined for 194 receptions and 2,251 yards, the latter of which accounted for nearly 64 percent of Syracuse’s receiving yards last year. That’s tough to replace.

Defensively, Cuse lost a lot of talent at linebacker. Parris Bennett, Zaire Franklin and Jonathan Thomas combined for 20.5 tackles for loss and nearly 250 total tackles. That’s not easy to replace. Placekicker Cole Murphy, who made all 11 attempts of field goals less than 39 yards last year, is also gone.

Offensive Outlook

Quarterback Eric Dungey, who threw for 407 yards against UConn in 2016, is back for his senior season and will be the starter against the Huskies barring an injury. Due to the loss of Ishmael and Phillips, there aren’t too many known pass-catching entities for the Orange other than wide receiver Devin C. Butler and tight end Ravian Pierce. For a team that relies on a pass-heavy offense and will likely have a mediocre at best ground game, this could be a problem.

The offensive line has its fair share of talent though, including Koda Martin, who transferred from Texas A&M and Cuse returns most of their key linemen. It’s not a guarantee this will make the run game (62nd in rushing S&P+ last year) any better, but it will probably help at least a little bit.

Defensive Outlook

Syracuse ranked 99th in defensive S&P+ last year. and it’s hard to say they’ll be any better after losing so much talent at linebacker, and the secondary may be just as shaky as it was last year. Like on offense, there’s a chance the defensive line is solid due to many key players returning such as defensive end Brandon Berry and defensive tackle Josh Black.

Last year, the Orange had the worst sack rate in FBS at 1.3 percent, so Berry, Black and Kenneth Ruff will need to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks if this defense wants to get better.

Matchup against UConn

Syracuse’s defense is bad. UConn’s is probably worse. This game could be a good test for new offensive coordinator John Dunn to see how he takes advantage of a weak linebackers unit and secondary to put enough points to keep the Huskies in the game.

Defensively, UConn should try not to let someone on Syracuse go off for 270 receiving yards again. If the Huskies can put pressure on Dungey and make him make tough throws, this game could end up a lot closer than it probably should be.

While this one likely won’t end well for the Huskies, it’s going to be a fun one to watch.

Prediction: Syracuse 41, UConn 28