LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Syracuse is on the brink of bowl eligibility. Louisville is running out of chances to get there.
While both teams have just two wins in Atlantic Coast Conference play, the Orange (5-4, 2-3) enter Saturday’s game rested and optimistic after consecutive wins for the first time since September. The Cardinals (4-5, 2-4) have lost four of five and look to avoid another fourth-quarter letdown.
“It’s motivation for our guys to continue to work,” said coach Scott Satterfield, whose team let another late-game lead slip away in a 30-24 loss to Clemson.
“They know that they’re so close. ... It’s the same things that they’ve done the first three quarters of these games, we just have to carry it on to the last one.”
The Cardinals’ opportunities of reaching that six-win threshold for bowl eligibility are dwindling. Even if they get past the Orange, the challenge is winning next weekend’s ACC finale at Duke and then beating rival Kentucky on Nov. 27.
Syracuse looks to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2018. The sooner it accomplishes that mission, the better.
The Orange had a bye following a 21-6 comeback victory over Boston College nearly two weeks ago. Saturday is the first of consecutive road games that includes No. 21 North Carolina State before they host Pittsburgh on Nov. 27. Coach Dino Babers hopes the week off provides the energy they’ll need to continue their roll — especially since they could have folded during a three-game slide.
“There were a lot of things that happened, a lot of adversity where they could have taken a different angle, a different slant on it,” Babers said of his team’s play. “But the core of the team kept it together – the super seniors, the juniors, the outstanding people in the classes below that, they really wanted to win. And they really stayed locked in.”
Some other things to watch as Louisville hosts Syracuse:
LAMAR JACKSON TRIBUTE
An added attraction takes place Saturday at halftime, when Louisville retires the No. 8 jersey of 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. The current Baltimore Ravens quarterback and 2019 NFL MVP joins Johnny Unitas as the second Cardinals player to have his jersey number retired. Jackson’s No. 8 jersey will hang with Unitas’ No. 16 in the east side of Cardinal Stadium.
Satterfield expects mobile Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham to play after an ankle injury sidelined him for part of the second half against Clemson. The junior accounted for 308 yards offensively and two touchdowns last week and ranks fifth in ACC total offense at 296.33 yards per game.
Second-year tailback Sean Tucker is on the cusp of breaking Syracuse’s single-season rushing record. He enters Saturday’s game with 1,267 yards and needs 106 to break the mark set in 1979 by Joe Morris. Tucker is second nationally to Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III in both rushing and rushing yards per game (140.8). Tucker also is second in all-purpose yards (167.2) to Utah State wide receiver Deven Thompkins (173.11) and Tucker doesn’t return kicks. Tucker and Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader have combined to rush for 1,937 yards, the most by any two FBS teammates.
SURGE AND PROTECT
Syracuse leads the ACC with 33 sacks, eight more than fifth-place Louisville. Both teams rank third and fifth respectively in sacks allowed, with the Cardinals’ 15 just four fewer than the Orange.
WHO’S GOT THE BALL?
If opposing defenses have been challenged to stop Syracuse’s run game, it’s understandable. Quarterback Garrett Shrader has rushed for 670 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he likes to improvise, so much so that the offensive line is often caught off-guard.
“There’s been times I’ve blocked a play and I look back and Garrett’s got the ball on the other side of the field,” said redshirt senior offensive lineman Airon Servais, whose 57 straight starts is the longest streak in the nation. “Sometimes I don’t even know what they’re doing back there, but they’re doing what they need to do to win games.”
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
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