Virginia Football Schedule Preview: Syracuse

Billy Kemp IV and the Hoos will hit the road for their ACC opener. ~ Photo by Kris Wright/

After three non-conference games to start the season, the Virginia football team will take on its first ACC opponent of the 2022 campaign, the Syracuse Orange. Coming off a 1-10 record in 2020, the Orange started the 2021 season 5-4 before dropping their last three games to finish 5-7.

Dino Babers, who is entering his seventh season at the helm, is on maybe the hottest seat in the ACC. Other than a 10-3 season in 2018, Cuse has yet to see more than five wins in a season during his tenure, amassing a 29-43 record. Another storyline for this matchup will be Robert Anae and Jason Beck coaching against their former team, as Anae took the offensive coordinator job at Syracuse after Bronco Mendenhall’s departure, while Beck is the QB coach.

Let’s look at the next game on the 2022 schedule.

Syracuse Orange

  • Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 – 7:30 p.m.
  • JMA Wireless Dome, Syracuse, NY (FieldTurf)
  • 2021 Overall Record: 5-7 (2-6 ACC)
  • Coach: Dino Babers, 7th season
  • Last Meeting: Oct. 17, 2015 – UVA won 44-38 (3OT)
  • Key Returning Players: Sean Tucker (RB), Mikel Jones (LB), Darian “Duce” Chestnut (DB), Garrett Williams (DB), Stefon Thompson (LB)

What To Expect On Game Day

What’s To Like: Syracuse returns multiple players from 2021. The Orange return about 80% of last season’s production and 17 starters. On one hand, this could be looked at as a negative, especially when a team goes under .500. However, it shows there is stability with the team and experience, which is something that the Cavaliers are lacking at various positions.  

Syracuse brings some of the better players at their respective positions in the conference. Sean Tucker is the star of the show, but I will get to him later. At the second level, Syracuse returns all three linebackers. Mikel Jones ranked No. 22 in the nation with 9.2 tackles per game, compiling a team-leading 111 tackles in 12 games. Next to him, Stefon Thompson amassed 79 tackles and 6 sacks in 2021. Marlowe Wax completes the trio, as he made 60 tackles and had 4 sacks last season. These linebackers have all started games in two or more seasons, and Virginia could have its hands full trying to slow them down. 

Duce Chestnut was a breakout player for Syracuse as a freshman. He compiled 43 tackles, 11 passes defended, 8 pass break-ups, and 3 interceptions. His early success earned him a spot on the Freshman All-American team by ESPN and other national publications and was All-ACC Third Team. He also finished second in ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year voting, falling to Clemson’s Andre Mukuba. Chestnut has already made a major impact early in his career, and we should hear his name a lot, as he goes up against Brennan Armstrong and the Virginia receiving weapons. 

Garrett Williams pairs along with Chestnut at cornerback. Although Chestnut receives a lot of hype because of his accomplishments as a freshman, it can be argued that Williams is the better defensive back. In 10 games last season, Williams had 52 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and an ACC-leading 9 pass break-ups (also led ACC in pass break-ups in 2020 with 10). Despite a top-tier aerial attack from Virginia, the Hoos must be cautious against this duo and the other defensive players listed above, as they are all some of the top players in the ACC at their position. 

What’s Not To Like: One spot where Syracuse does not retain much production is on the defensive line. Redshirt junior Caleb Okechukwu, who is also the only upperclassman on this front, is the most experienced of the group, making 14 tackles and 1 sack in 258 snaps