After getting a big win on the road in awful conditions against North Carolina, the Hokies head on the road again but this time to play in much better conditions in the Carrier Dome against the Syracuse Orange. The Hokies are up to 17th in the nation and while a big game looms against Miami next Thursday, the Hokies have to take care of business against a Syracuse team looking for a big win in their first season under Dino Babers.
This is also the first time these old Big East rivals have played since 2003 so with that said, here are our key matchups for the Hokies and Syracuse.
CB Brandon Facyson vs. WR Amba Etta-Tawo
Syracuse senior wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo has had one of the biggest breakthrough seasons of all receivers in college football as the senior from Georgia has 51 catches for 876 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. His 876 receiving yards lead the nation while his 51 catches are fifth in the nation and his 6 receiving touchdowns are tied for ninth in the nation and is tied for the ACC lead in this category with Miami's Stacy Coley and Clemson's Deon Cain.
However, Etta-Tawo hasn't faced off a defense as good as the Hokies including a secondary that is one of the best in the nation headlined by plenty of talented players at cornerback and safety. While Etta-Tawo will face multiple players, it will likely be Brandon Facyson who will match up against Etta-Tawo the most and the redshirt junior has been quite good this season.
Etta-Tawo was held under 100 receiving yards for the first time this season last week at Wake Forest with only 4 catches for 36 receiving yards but the senior now returns to the comfortable confines of the Carrier Dome where Etta-Tawo has had at least 100 receiving yards in all four games including against Louisville.
While Etta-Tawo has been fairly productive, Syracuse has still struggled to only a 2-4 record but if the Hokies want to make this easier, slowing down Etta-Tawo would be a great way to do it. This game also offers Brandon Facyson a great opportunity to make a strong impression that he should be seriously considered for some significant All-ACC honors.
If the Hokies can contain Etta-Tawo, it will become even harder for Syracuse to find a way to make this game interesting against Virginia Tech.
DE Ken Ekanem vs. LT Michael Lasker
Michael Lasker was in a battle this past spring for the starting left tackle job and beat out a sophomore to do it likely due in part to how he has some game experience even if it was on the interior of the Syracuse offensive line. Lasker has also faced some challenges this season but the senior left tackle may face his toughest challenge in this game against Ken Ekanem.
Ken Ekanem has been quite good this year with 17 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 5 QB hurries, and 2 pass breakups as the senior defensive end is one of the most underrated edge linemen in America. Ekanem has been the star on an elite defensive line that has been a nightmare for plenty of opponents and hopes to wreak havoc on Syracuse QB Eric Dungey.
For Lasker, Syracuse will likely give him a tight end to help at times but with Bud Foster unafraid to blitz his linebackers, Lasker will have to face off against Ekanem a lot of times in one-on-one matchups. For the Hokies, this is a good matchup that Ekanem will definitely be ready to take advantage of.
Ken Ekanem is building a strong case for a spot on the All-ACC First Team but Michael Lasker will do everything he can to contain him. However, no one should be surprised if Ekanem has a big game on Saturday.
VT Offensive Line vs. Syracuse Defenisve Line
On paper, this matchup looks like a definite advantage for the Hokies and it is as Virginia Tech's offensive line has been fairly good especially in pass protection and on the edges where Yosuah Nijman and Jonathan McLaughlin have been reliable even while the Hokies have had some struggles at left guard and center.
Meanwhile, Syracuse's defensive line is full of inexperience with a redshirt sophomore, true sophomore, and two true freshmen starting for the Orange with both starting defensive ends being true freshmen. So far, the Orange only have 10 sacks and 8 QB hurries on the season in 6 games while the Hokies have only given up 7 sacks and 16 QB hurries.
For the Hokies, the offensive line hasn't been perfect but they've been solid and this is a great chance to build even more confidence against a struggling Syracuse defensive line that will need to find a way to get pressure to try to help a Syracuse secondary that has struggled immensely.
If Syracuse can get some pressure on Jerod Evans, they could make this game a little more interesting but if not, Evans and the passing game should have a big game against a struggling Syracuse pass defense that is prone to giving up big plays.
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