Win or stay home.
With only four games remaining in the regular season, that’s pretty much the mantra Syracuse (3-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) has to live by if it wants to reach the required six wins to be eligible to play in the postseason.
”Most of the guys, especially the older guys, know what’s at stake,” senior nose tackle Eric Crume said. ”We’re not oblivious to the situation. We know every game is a must win. You can’t look at the big picture – that we have Pitt in November and Boston College in November. Everybody understands the situation and knows we basically have to win out.”
The first step comes Saturday in the Carrier Dome against North Carolina State (4-4). The Wolfpack went 0-8 in the ACC a year ago and are winless in four conference games this season. They’re coming off a bye week while the Orange are licking their wounds after a tough loss at Clemson.
”Coach (Dave) Doeren has this whole week talked about wiping the slate clean. Those first eight games, nothing’s going to help us, nothing’s going to hurt us,” defensive back Justin Burris said.
Syracuse probably wouldn’t be in such a precarious position if it could only score in the red zone. In losses to a pair of ranked teams – Notre Dame and Clemson – the Orange defense forced nine turnovers, returning one for a score. The offense failed to score a touchdown on the other eight and has scored just 10 TDs in 27 red-zone chances (37 percent).
”You always feel bad about that, and I do feel bad because they’re playing very, very hard,” offensive guard Sean Hickey said. ”At the same time, there’ve been times the last four or five years where the situation has been reversed.”
Other things to know when North Carolina State visits Syracuse on Saturday:
SCORING SLUMP: Since scoring 41 points in a loss to Florida State in late September, North Carolina State hasn’t scored more than 18 in any of its last three games, even though QB Jacoby Brissett is third in the ACC with 16 touchdown passes and third in total offense with 248 yards per game.
BYE BYE: North Carolina State is coming off a bye week, which might give the Wolfpack the edge they need.
”They’re going to come out with something, and we have to figure it out and stop it,” Syracuse defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough said. ”They do a lot of stuff, and they’re going to do something different. If we get flustered, we’ll be in trouble.”
RUN BY COMMITTEE: Syracuse has had four different players rush for over 100 yards – Prince-Tyson Gulley has done it twice, and Terrel Hunt, Adonis Ameen-Moore and Devante McFarlane once each. This marks just the second time in 35 years the Orange have had that many 100-yard rushers in the same season. In 1980, Joe Morris, Dave Warner, Glenn Moore and Ken Mandeville all topping 100 yards at least once.
THIS AND THAT: Syracuse is the only team in the nation to rank in the top 10 of the FBS for most fumbles recovered (tied for fourth with 11) and fewest fumbles lost (tied for seventh with just two). North Carolina State thrives on keeping it clean: The Wolfpack are 10th nationally in fewest penalties per game at 4.25.
THE LAST TIME: N.C. State visits the Carrier Dome for the second time in program history and the first time since 1997. The Wolfpack won that first meeting under the Teflon roof, upsetting the 13th-ranked Orange 32-31 in overtime with a daring call by coach Mike O’Cain, who decided to go for the win instead of forcing a second overtime. When the Wolfpack lined up for the 2-point try, Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni failed to get his players’ attention in time to call timeout, and Jamie Barnette hit Torry Holt in the left corner of the end zone for the victory. It was a bitter blow to Syracuse and quarterback Donovan McNabb. They had opened the season with a 34-0 victory over Wisconsin.