Utah Game Preview (2/21/24, Noon) | Syracusefan.com

Utah Game Preview (2/21/24, Noon)

Powellfan

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The Syracuse Orange face a midweek test against the winless Utah Utes. The biggest thing to watch for is how quickly the Orange have moved past their Saturday night disappointment against Maryland. Do they come out sluggish, especially with a noon start time in the middle of the week? Or do they come out ready to prove something?

Utah is 0-2 with losses against top 20 teams in Ohio State and Denver. They were leading OSU 6-2 in the second quarter, but since then it's been all down hill for Utah, as they were outscored 9-2 the rest of the way and then were defeated 16-8 by Denver two weeks later. They have talent on this team, but two of the first things I look at when analyzing a team are face-offs and goalie play. Neither have been good for Utah. They have faced two of the game's better FOGOs in Tommy Burke and Alec Stathkis, but they are winning just 36% at the face-off X. After Mason Kohn's performance against Maryland this past weekend, it's fair to think that he's at the level of Burke and Stathkis. On paper at least, it's fair to think that Syracuse will have a lot of extra possessions. The goalie position for Utah might be more of a concern for them. Colin Lenskold has played every minute for them this year and has just a 37.2% save percentage. That is not going to get it done. An X factor might be if Utah plays a new goalie that SU won't have any tape on, but it's a tall task to ask a new goalie to come into the Dome and play well.

For SU, there are certain members of the offense who seem to be in a funk. It might be something of a first world problem when the offense on the whole is playing pretty well, but if Joey Spallina isn't going to be the focal point of the offense in "bigger" games this year, SU will need the supporting cast to step up. That means players like Christian Mule, Finn Thomson, Jackson Birtwistle and Sammy English need to start producing multi point games. This seems like the perfect opportunity for those players to get some momentum. At this point, I think it's better for Spallina to have a more modest game, and some of these other players to get more usage.

On offense, Utah has some very good players, Ryan Stines had 49 points last year, Tyler Bradbury had 56, Jordan Hyde 57. They've gotten off to a slow start this year (combined 12 points), though I imagine that has a lot to do with possessions. If SU turns the ball over a bunch, or Kohn doesn't win the majority of face-offs, Utah could absolutely put points on the board. This should be a good test for the SU defense. None of the Utah attackmen are overly big guys (none over 5'11) so match-ups should be interesting. I am guessing Riley Figuerias gets Bradbury with Billy Dwan on Hyde.

The line of -7 seems a bit high for this game, but I hope SU can put a lot of goals on the board to show that there is no hangover from Saturday night. This is the perfect recipe for a "Letdown Lookahead" game with Army on deck, but the Orange should know better than to look beyond any opponent. I am going with a score line of 18-8 with the caveat that noon on a Wednesday is a really weird time. SU is going from a Saturday night primetime event against a top 5 opponent with seven thousand fans, to a midweek game against a winless team with maybe two thousand fans. How will that affect the players and their motivation? Hopefully it won't, but I can't remember SU playing a game during work hours before, so it's just really hard to predict.
 
The Syracuse Orange face a midweek test against the winless Utah Utes. The biggest thing to watch for is how quickly the Orange have moved past their Saturday night disappointment against Maryland. Do they come out sluggish, especially with a noon start time in the middle of the week? Or do they come out ready to prove something?

Utah is 0-2 with losses against top 20 teams in Ohio State and Denver. They were leading OSU 6-2 in the second quarter, but since then it's been all down hill for Utah, as they were outscored 9-2 the rest of the way and then were defeated 16-8 by Denver two weeks later. They have talent on this team, but two of the first things I look at when analyzing a team are face-offs and goalie play. Neither have been good for Utah. They have faced two of the game's better FOGOs in Tommy Burke and Alec Stathkis, but they are winning just 36% at the face-off X. After Mason Kohn's performance against Maryland this past weekend, it's fair to think that he's at the level of Burke and Stathkis. On paper at least, it's fair to think that Syracuse will have a lot of extra possessions. The goalie position for Utah might be more of a concern for them. Colin Lenskold has played every minute for them this year and has just a 37.2% save percentage. That is not going to get it done. An X factor might be if Utah plays a new goalie that SU won't have any tape on, but it's a tall task to ask a new goalie to come into the Dome and play well.

For SU, there are certain members of the offense who seem to be in a funk. It might be something of a first world problem when the offense on the whole is playing pretty well, but if Joey Spallina isn't going to be the focal point of the offense in "bigger" games this year, SU will need the supporting cast to step up. That means players like Christian Mule, Finn Thomson, Jackson Birtwistle and Sammy English need to start producing multi point games. This seems like the perfect opportunity for those players to get some momentum. At this point, I think it's better for Spallina to have a more modest game, and some of these other players to get more usage.

On offense, Utah has some very good players, Ryan Stines had 49 points last year, Tyler Bradbury had 56, Jordan Hyde 57. They've gotten off to a slow start this year (combined 12 points), though I imagine that has a lot to do with possessions. If SU turns the ball over a bunch, or Kohn doesn't win the majority of face-offs, Utah could absolutely put points on the board. This should be a good test for the SU defense. None of the Utah attackmen are overly big guys (none over 5'11) so match-ups should be interesting. I am guessing Riley Figuerias gets Bradbury with Billy Dwan on Hyde.

The line of -7 seems a bit high for this game, but I hope SU can put a lot of goals on the board to show that there is no hangover from Saturday night. This is the perfect recipe for a "Letdown Lookahead" game with Army on deck, but the Orange should know better than to look beyond any opponent. I am going with a score line of 18-8 with the caveat that noon on a Wednesday is a really weird time. SU is going from a Saturday night primetime event against a top 5 opponent with seven thousand fans, to a midweek game against a winless team with maybe two thousand fans. How will that affect the players and their motivation? Hopefully it won't, but I can't remember SU playing a game during work hours before, so it's just really hard to predict.

Feel like a broken record but again good stuff.

My biggest issue is the game time. I know Utah wants to get back to the West Coast timely and SU is accommodating them but a Noon game on a Wed in the middle of February is ridiculous, this isn't a MAAC game. Maybe if this was late April and the two teams were tying to squeeze one in it would make sense but this feels like the poster child of setting yourself up for trouble in a game you absolutely can't lose. This really should be a 7pm game against Albany(yes I know they play tonight) or Binghamton etc. To be honest Vermont or Colgate here would make a lot more sense for a 7pm or 5pm game but obviously those games have already taken place. First world problems I know but as you astutely pointed out your going from a primetime game crazy atmosphere with 8K fans to a Noon game with about as much energy as a wake. Seems almost a lock the team will come out flat/disinterested but hopefully I am wrong.

As for the game itself, you touched on the issues that are plaguing Utah currently. They lose their grad transfer FOGO to RU who is having a pretty good year and they like SU last year have no real answers. Their goalie play has also been pretty abysmal though some of that is likely the opponent and the fact that faceoffs have been so bad. Overall Utah is not a bad team. They have a lot of upperclassmen and love to run and gun offensively. If you look at the Denver game for example, it was 10-7 at the end of the 3rd quarter before Denver broke it open into the 4th. Similar to the OSU game where Ohio State slowed the game way down in the 2nd half and just was able to out athlete Utah.

Seems odd to say this for Syracuse team but SU probably doesn't want to get into an up and down run and gun type of game with Utah. It will play exactly into Utah's hands and is probably one of the few paths they can take to get the upset win. Winning 60%+ at the X and attacking secondary defensive matchups will likely be the game plan. SU needs to be careful here and not come in disinterested and start throwing the ball around/turning it over at an alarming rate. If they do that they will find themselves in a prolonged dog fight. Utah won't be intimidated by the Dome having already played OSU, scrimmaged ND the following week and then played Denver last Sat.

A few other notes. Utah plays relatively clean. They have 34 turnovers in 2 games which is pretty good when you consider the competition. They have a 92% clear rate and are committing about 3 penalties a game (albeit in a small sample size). Utah has drawn 7 penalties but is 0-7 in two games on the man up. Something to watch for especially if SU sticks with the hockey line change man down sub package.

As for the matchups themselves as I noted Utah wants to run and play a helter skelter style. Pretty much the exact opposite of Maryland who wanted to hold the ball until you nearly fell asleep from boredom. They will likely be shooting early and often, Defense should recognize this from the scout but are hopefully prepared. They aren't a huge ball movement offense in that they only have 6 assists total in the their 2 games and their top attackmen has only 1. I disagree a bit with Powell on the matchups. I think Figuerias takes Stines, he had a monster frosh year and has the most shots for the Utes. I think Dwan on on Bradburry and Caccamo on Hyde who is the elite shooter of the bunch. This feels different from what you would normally see as Bradbury was the assist leader last year and prototypical QB but after Riley spent Sat chasing Erksa around I think the staff may want to switch things up a bit. Carson Moyer is their top middie and will surely draw Olexxo.

From an SU offensive standpoint I'd like to see them play smart. Minimize the turnovers and sports center plays and come out in the 1st half and simply impose their will. I don't think we will see much in the way of lineup changes but if Gait/March are considering it, this is the game to experiment with it because next week sure as hell isn't. Really hope to see some big games from Mule and English. Really need to get those two on track. Utah again not a terrible Defensive team, Boylston is a good defender who will draw Joey but they lost their AA LSM and the goalie play as Powell pointed out has not been good. Would be good to see Hiltz get back on track to after Saturday. Should SU get out to a big lead, I really hope to see some shifting in the lines on the 1's and some run for Elijah-Brown at attack.

All and all this a game SU should win by 5 goals+. A loss here is not impossible but is gonna require SU to play sloppy for a majority of the game, have probably 15+ turnovers, a handful of penalties and the Utah goalie likely standing on his head as Mullen and Kohn should be north of 60%. at the dot. The start time is less then optimal and Army next week will clearly be on their minds but it would be a great sign for them to come out and set the ton early versus a 7-6 game late in the 2nd quarter.
 

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