BTP: What's the latest on Eric Dungey, and if he is unable to go, how drastically does that affect the Syracuse offense?
JC: Dino Babers won't be sharing anything about Dungey until he has to on Thursday's injury report. The fact that our quarterback was on the sideline soon after he exited the game means a concussion's probably out, but he could be suffering from another issue related to his shoulder or neck (based on how he was hit vs. Clemson, anyway). If he's unable to go, this offense will be a shell of itself.
Austin Wilson has a strong arm, but as he showed against the Tigers, not an entirely accurate one. Zack Mahoney can run, but he's not all that accurate. Neither can run Babers's offense at the same rate Dungey can. That means a defensively-led battle, which doesn't bode well for Syracuse.
BTP: In my opinion, Dino Babers has already made a dramatic improvement from where Scott Shafer left this team. What's the general feeling about Babers around the fanbase?
JC: Thanks! We like him quite a bit, too.
Orange fans favor Babers because he has a clear plan and you can see the results of that plan unfolding week after week. The offense, while still not as high-flying as it could be, looks to be progressing, and the defense has improved immensely from its early season struggles. He's also an inspiring communicator. Sure, some coach speak and vague responses in there, as per usual. But he understands how to work with the media, gets fans excited and avoids bluster in favor of measured reactions and clear football know-how. Tough to be happier with a hire than we are right now.
BTP: Amba Etta-Tawo is having an unbelievable season for the Orange statistically, with two games with over 200 yards receiving, and averaging just under 130 yards per game. What makes him such a dangerous weapon for the Syracuse offense?
JC: Before he officially suited up for SU, we thought he could be a capable deep threat, but that drastically undersold what Etta-Tawo was/is capable of. He's quick, sure-handed, and knows how to move past defenders in the open field or a confined space. Every game, you can watch him assess what the defense will give him, and then exploit that to no end. Try to jam him at the line? He'll find a way to beat you over the top. Give him space, he'll kill you on screens all day. Double him up, and now you're dealing with another open wideout instead. For opponents, there's no winning with Etta-Tawo on the field. That's extremely reassuring.
BTP: On the defensive side of the ball, who is a player that Pack fans should be concerned with?
JC: While he's still rounding into his role in the new Tampa-2 scheme, middle linebacker Zaire Franklin is still the defense's most dangerous player. The middle linebacker role is supposed to be more coverage-focused, but Franklin was recruited to blitz, as the position did in the old scheme. He's found a way to merge the demands of both schemes to be an all-encompassing player who is in every part of the field at all times. Franklin generates pressure, gets into passing lanes and helps create turnovers, all from one part of the field. There are other players that contribute, but it all starts with Franklin.
BTP: What player on the NC State offense gives you the most concern?
Jaylen Samuels is one of the ACC's most versatile offensive weapons, and a scary proposition for this (at times) coverage-challenged Syracuse defense. If Samuels can find himself open in the flat, NC State's offense is going to find ways to beat the Orange. He's a mismatch for our corners, and if we try to put linebackers on him, that'll open up the middle of the field for the Wolfpack's other receivers. So yeah, best bet's to throw to him, guys.
BTP: Aside from Dungey, any other major injuries to report?
Unfortunately, Syracuse suffered a couple last week -- most notably wide receiver Brisly Estime and running back Moe Neal. Estime's one of the conference's best return men, so his absence would certainly play a pretty big role, should it come to pass. We've been missing a lot of defensive backs and offensive linemen, but that's been the case for weeks on end and we've managed to get by.
BTP: Let's get a prediction on the game. Who leaves the Carrier Dome with a victory?
JC: If Dungey goes, I'm siding with Syracuse by the slim score of 30-26. The Orange move the ball well enough to force NC State to keep up, and the SU defense manages to force a turnover or two to help get that fifth win. Without Dungey, I'm going with the Wolfpack by a 27-14 score in a game none of us will ever want to witness again.