BTP: In year two of Dino Babers, what's the general consensus among the fanbase on how things are going?
JC: I think there was some panic following an early loss to Middle Tennessee, but Syracuse has played pretty well since Babers arrived and the brand of football is far more entertaining than the previous regime's. Now that the offense is at the right speed, fans are looking for points, though. We've seen glimpses of elite production, but it's inconsistent. Wins would cure these concerns, obviously.
BTP: Eric Dungey is a pretty dynamic quarterback, and is the focal point of the offense. Who is one player on offense that doesn't get as much attention, but is equally or close to as important?
JC: Steve Ishmael's finally rounded into the player we always assumed he'd be at the No. 1 outside receiver spot. Through four games, he's already nearing career-high numbers, and he leads the country in receptions. We've yet to really see what happens to this Orange offense if he doesn't produce in 2017, since Ishmael has at least eight catches and 100 yards in each game so far. NC State will likely key in on him early.
BTP: Who is one player on NC State's offense that gives you the most concern heading into Saturday's matchup?
JC: It's probably Kelvin Harmon, or whoever else is most likely to beat Syracuse over the top. While our secondary's improved, there are still some issues at safety and those have been exploited at least once per week all season. Harmon can probably catch someone sleeping back there once or twice, especially if Ryan Finley's able to avoid pressure.
BTP: How will Syracuse look to keep pressure off of Dungey from the likes of Bradley Chubb and others on the defensive front?
JC: Last year's offensive line injuries lent to younger players getting valuable experience, but we haven't necessarily seen the benefits of that just yet in 2017. Starting guard Aaron Roberts was also lost for the season back in August, so this group is still incredibly young. Assuming left tackle Cody Conway is back after an injury late in the fourth quarter vs. LSU, he'll be relied on heavily to pass protect, along with the rest of the line and a mix of additional blockers in the backfield. Last week, we held off the Tigers with Ravian Pierce or Dontae Strickland adding another body. I'd assume we do the same this week.
BTP: What is one area of NC State's team that you feel Syracuse can take advantage of?
JC: The downfield passing game, which would be a relief for us. Though the Orange have a very good passing attack, it lacks a reliable option over the top this year (compared to Amba Etta-Tawo last season). Since NC State's pass defense has struggled, and the secondary can get beat from time to time, I'd expect SU to take some shots and see if they can get any single coverage out there. That should mean opportunities for Ishmael to go up and get it, but keep an eye on how Syracuse uses Sean Riley and Devin C. Butler downfield as well.
BTP: Any major injuries to report?
JC: A few, unfortunately. The aforementioned Roberts has been out all season, and the Conway injury also worries us, as he's our best offensive lineman right now. Receiver Jamal Custis hasn't played since week two, and defensive end Kendall Coleman actually left the LSU game with an injury -- something that could be a blow to the resurgent pass rush. Safety Antwan Cordy's also out since week one, though could return by the Clemson game. He's one of the team's top defenders, and would've really helped allay some of our struggles in the secondary so far.
BTP: Let's get a prediction. Who wins on Saturday?
JC: If Syracuse has any shot at a bowl game, this is a must-win. That said, NC State did look impressive against Florida State last week, and has the right recipe of a lethal pass rush and an efficient quarterback to best the Orange. Should the Pack be able to operate at SU's tempo and avoid turnovers, I think their front seven should be enough to win a close one. But if Syracuse can gain a lead and keep operating at that speed, it might be hard to adjust. I may regret this, but give me Syracuse with an upset on the road, 34-31.
Thanks again to John for stopping by to answer our questions. Make sure to visit their site, Nunes Magician to see my answers to his questions!