Syracuse Football Set To Battle Georgia Tech For Bowl Eligibility
Georgia Tech has the unfortunate distinction of being the only team to lose to Syracuse football in the pandemic shortened season. In front of empty seats at the dome, the Orange took care of the Yellow Jackets 37-20. SU lost eight straight after that game, and GT finished the year 3-9.
Fast forward three years, and the two former basement dwellers of the ACC face off again, this time with a ticket to a bowl game on the line.
Syracuse (5-5, 1-5) seemed to find its footing last week versus Pittsburgh. Without backup quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, and with starter Garrett Shrader hampered by an injury, the Orange had no choice but to run the ball. The Orange rushed for 392 yards against the Panthers, their most in the last quarter century. Leading the way was not a running back or quarterback, but a tight end. Tight end Dan Villari served as the team’s wildcat quarterback on a sizable amount of snaps and tallied 17 carries for 154 rushing yards, the most from a tight end in program history. For his efforts, Villari was named the ACC running back of the week.
Villari was one of three players with over 100 yards rushing thanks to the new wildcat offense. This does not bode well for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets allow 224 yards on the ground per game. Only North Texas concedes more rushing yards per contest in the FBS. In Georgia Tech’s last game at Clemson, the Tigers gashed the Yellow Jackets for 260 rushing yards. GT head coach Brent Key understands adjustments need to be made to stop the new and improved Syracuse rushing attack.
“We got to get an edge to ourselves and get down there and get our cleats on the ground,” said Key. “They (Syracuse) put in an entire new offense in six days, what’s to say they’re not going to do that again?”
SU head coach Dino Babers said that they won’t change the offense again, barring unforeseen changes to personnel.
“Health forced us to play that way,” said Babers. “And health can move us away from it…We’re basing these things off of guys who are healthy, not somebody we’re expecting go be healthy”
Specifically, the health of quarterback Garrett Shrader. The starter completed just one pass for five yards. Coach Babers declined to answer if the senior could comfortably throw more if needed. Because of the lack of a quarterback who could throw, the Orange completed just 4 passes for 17 yards, their fewest in an ACC game. Unless Shrader or backup Carlos Del Rio-Wilson are ready to throw on Saturday, it’s reasonable to expect more of the wildcat formation and more read option runs for the Orange.
Conversely, the passing game is not an issue for Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets quarterback Haynes King has tossed 24 touchdown passes, which is the most in the conference and tied for ninth most in the nation. The Texas A&M transfer has 2,459 passing yards, making him the first passer to throw more than 2,000 yards for GT since 2007. King throws to weapons such as redshirt freshman Malik Rutherford, who leads the team with 445 yards, and true freshman Eric Singleton who runs a 10.2 second 100-meter sprint.
The Yellow Jackets complement King’s arm with a steady rushing attack. Running back Jamal Haynes ranks fifth in the ACC with 768 yards. He is backed up by redshirt junior Dontae Smith, who carried the rock 22 times for 178 yards in a 46-42 win over North Carolina. Under the leadership of the RB tandem, the Yellow Jackets boast a top-three rushing attack in the conference.
Georgia Tech’s 444.2 yards per contest are the third best in conference, while Syracuse gives up 381 yards per game, a bottom four mark in the ACC. Even so, the Orange are coming off their best defensive game since the season opening shutout versus Colgate. SU allowed just 269 total yards, one touchdown and forced four turnovers. All of those marks hadn’t been reached since early September.
SU cornerback Jayden Bellamy, who collected his first career interception and touchdown versus Pitt, emphasized winning the turnover battle to be successful against Georgia Tech.
“We always have that mindset that we need takeaways. Takeaways will help the offense,” said Bellamy. “We have to be able to win it on our side.”
With a win on Saturday, Syracuse will be bowl eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time in over a decade. If Georgia Tech wins, it gains bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018.
Syracuse meets Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday at 8 p.m. WAER’s coverage begins at 7:30 with McClurg Remodeling Countdown to Kickoff.