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Virginia Football Opponent Preview: Syracuse Orange

The Hoos visit western New York to play a Syracuse team that features some familiar faces on the coaching staff.

Arizona v Stanford Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

To open conference play, new head coach Tony Elliott and the Virginia Cavaliers will take a trip up north to Syracuse. Although the ‘Hoos have not played the Orange since 2015, an element of familiarity will be there. The Syracuse staff recently brought in two assistant coaches who previously served under Bronco Mendenhall — offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck.

Syracuse looks to build off of the moderate success they’ve previously experienced under head coach Dino Babers. Recently the Orange have not been able to get the gears going but they did show some encouraging signs in 2021.

2021 Recap

Record: 5-7

Postseason: none

At first glance, a 5-7 overall record does not appear to be daunting. However, the 2020 season saw Syracuse going an abysmal 1-10, while being outscored by opponents by double digits in eight of their losses.

Last year, the Orange showed a lot more, winning home games against Liberty and Boston College, while also taking down the Hokies in Blacksburg. Perhaps more importantly, they were not heavily outplayed in most of their losses. Syracuse started 0-3 in the ACC, but only lost their games to Florida State, Wake Forest, and Clemson by a combined nine points. The issue was no longer a major talent discrepancy but rather the inability to close out wins.

2022 Preview

Key Returners: RB Sean Tucker, CB Garrett Williams, CB Darian “Duce” Chestnut

Key Departures: WR Taj Harris, DL Cody Roscoe

Key New Faces: RB Juwan Price, CB Alijah Clark, OC Robert Anae, QB Coach Jason Beck

The one player that many fans know nationally on the Syracuse roster is running back Sean Tucker. After showing sparks in his freshman season, Tucker exploded onto the scene last season, accounting for 1,515 rushing yards, 249 receiving yards, and 66 missed tackles forced (6th among the power five).

This offseason, Babers added another productive piece to the running back room in New Mexico State transfer, Juwan Price. Especially with quarterback Garrett Shrader being a rushing threat himself, keeping the ball on the ground should be the pinnacle of Syracuse’s offense. It will be up to Anae to adjust his scheme to the new personnel.

On the other side of the ball, Tony White returns for a third season as the Orange’s defensive coordinator. Last year his group was improved but inconsistent. Now, all the pieces are there for this group to be a force in the ACC.

White loves to use deceptive blitzes with his linebackers to confuse opposing quarterbacks. This was put on display in 2021 against Liberty, where the Orange sacked star signal caller Malik Willis six times in a 24-21 victory.

Of course, blitz heavy teams require rangy, athletic defensive backs. Look no further than two of the most highly regarded corner backs in the ACC, in Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut.

They did struggling particularly with yards after the catch and on the defensive line, the departure of Cody Roscoe, who was second in the ACC with 12 sacks, will loom large.

Series History

All-time Record vs. Syracuse: 3-2

Last meeting: 2015, Virginia win 44-38

In 2015, the Hoos took the Orange into triple overtime, before a three yard touchdown run by Jordan Ellis sealed the deal. Taquan Mizzell was the leading force for the Hoos offensively with 69 receiving yards and an additional 58 yards on the ground.