Ahead of Liberty’s Friday night contest at Syracuse, we got in touch with Mike McAllister, who writes for Syracuse Orange on SI: an affiliate of Sports Illustrated that focuses solely on Syracuse athletics.

Syracuse’s defense has had a great year. What’s has the key to the unit’s success been through three weeks?

Mike McAllister: The defense is faster, more athletic and deeper than at any point in the Dino Babers era. Despite losing three defensive backs to the NFL off of last year’s squad, Syracuse has a plethora of talented defensive backs. The best of the bunch is Garrett Williams, who could be a first round NFL Draft pick next year. True freshman Duce Chestnut starts opposite him, and has been stellar through three games. Mikel Jones is a really good middle linebacker who has been much more consistent thus far in 2021. They have veterans along the defensive line as well. Combine all of that with much better effort against the run and limiting the big play, and the defense has certainly taken a big step forward from last season.

Are you able to give some insight on Syracuse’s QB battle?

MM: It’s been very interesting to say the least. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Tommy DeVito is clearly the better pure passer, but Shrader is better on broken down plays. Both have been up and down when they’ve been on the field. The favorite to be the starter against Liberty is DeVito, however. I think he gets the nod.

In addition to defense, what are some of Syracuse’s other strengths?

MM: Syracuse has a reliable, consistent placekicker in Andre Szmyt. It’s best offensive weapon is running back Sean Tucker. He is second in the ACC in rushing so far this season. He became the first Syracuse player ever with 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game last week. Wide receiver Taj Harris is another player to watch. He is great after the catch and is the Orange’s top deep threat.

What are some of the team’s weaknesses?

MM: The offensive line continues to be an area of focus. It appears the group has taken a step forward, but given the level of competition, that is not completely known just yet. In addition, with the quarterback situation, there has been inconsistencies in the passing game. Lastly, penalties have been a big problem for Syracuse this season. Last game, the Orange had 16 penalties for 164 yards, both program records.

What is the biggest change, good or bad, from last season’s team?

MM: Syracuse is much healthier. The offensive line missed multiple expected starters last year. The secondary was without two key players that are now in the NFL. The Orange started three quarterbacks last season due to injury. That has not been as prevalent of an issue this season.

What needs to happen for Syracuse to win the game?

MM: If Syracuse is going to win this game, it has to win the turnover battle, limit penalties and figure out a way to generate offense. I think the Syracuse defense will keep them in this one. The offense has to take advantage of opportunities and take care of the football. Whoever gets the start at quarterback needs to be efficient.

How will Syracuse lose the game?

MM: Syracuse will lose this game if the offense struggles, turns the ball over and commits too many penalties. The same issues that have plagued the Orange the last two seasons.

What’s your prediction?

MM: My prediction is this game will be very close. I haven’t decided on a winner yet, as I keep going back and forth. But I do think this will be a close game going into the fourth quarter, and whoever makes plays down the stretch will win it.