No. 17 Virginia Tech vs. Syracuse: dueling spread offenses
The spread offenses of Virginia Tech and Syracuse were both tested in the rain and wind last week in North Carolina. The Hokies passed. The Orange did not.
The teams will face off in a much more controlled environment at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse when the 17th-ranked Hokies (4-1, 2-0 ACC) face the Orange (2-4, 0-2) at 3:45 p.m. ET Saturday (ESPNU).
The question: Will Syracuse have success against a Virginia Tech defense that has shut down a pair of high-flying offenses in its last two games? The Hokies seem ready.
"No matter how good of a game we play, we never want to get complacent," Hokies cornerback Brandon Facyson said.
And how much better can the Hokies' offense perform when it does not have to deal with the sloppy conditions brought on by Hurricane Matthew?
Tech is coming off a convincing 34-3 road win over then-No. 19 North Carolina, a victory that vaulted the Hokies eight spots in the most recent Associated Press poll and put them in control of the division race.
While hardly prolific, the Hokies offense was efficient enough while taking advantage of favorable field position throughout the contest.
Quarterback Jerod Evans was only 7-of-17 passing for just 75 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Travon McMillian led the rushing attack with 76 yards on 17 carries against North Carolina. Both McMillian and Evans rushed for touchdowns.
The real key to the victory for Tech, however, was its defense. The Hokies completely shut down a Tar Heels offense that put up gaudy numbers in each of its first five games. The Heels rushed for only 73 yards and passed for just 58. They turned the ball over four times on two lost fumbles and two interceptions.
Tech's defense has been dominant during a recent run that included blowout wins over Boston College, East Carolina and North Carolina. ECU also boasts one of the top spread offenses in the country, and it struggled against the Hokies in much the same way the Tar Heels did.
The Hokies have outscored their last three opponents 137-20.
Syracuse's fast-paced, no-huddle spread attack, engineered by first-year coach Dino Babers, couldn't get going at Wake Forest last week. The Orange, coming off back-to-back 30-point performances, had a season-low 326 total yards in a 28-9 loss to the Demon Deacons.
Syracuse gained more than 400 yards in each of its first five games, and it exceeded 500 twice in that span.
"To me, we know they're going to put the ball in the air and operate at an incredible pace. ... They like to run the ball, too," Hokies first-year coach Justin Fuente said.
The Hokies could have their work cut out for them at the Dome, which it hasn't visited since 2002.
"Every down is a threat. They like to pass the ball, a very wide-open team," Facyson said of Syracuse. "We just need to execute."
Slowing down the pace also could help. The Orange like to play fast and pass-happy. When asked to do something different, Syracuse struggles.
Faced with the weather and a blitzing Demon Deacon defense, Syracuse ran the ball 40 times and passed it just 26. While the offense was successful picking up yards in dribs and drabs, it lacked the big-play capability of the passing attack and couldn't find the end zone after the second quarter.
The Orange threw just 14 passes through the first three quarters, and only took to the air late in the game as it attempted the late comeback. Quarterback Eric Dungy finished the game 14-of-25 passing for 156 yards with one interception.
"They were blitzing a lot on first down, stressing some personnel that have been young in their development, and we had trouble with it," Babers said. "They were getting to the quarterback and getting shots. We had some guys open, but our quarterback can't throw it to them if he can't see them."
On the bright side, the defense finally was able to keep an opponent from running up big numbers. It was a 14-9 game before the Deacons scored two touchdowns in the last four minutes.