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Syracuse braces for Lamar Jackson in must-win game

For whatever reason, the last two starts Zack Mahoney has made in relief of Eric Dungey have been paired with historically poor performances by the Syracuse defense.

In 2016, Pittsburgh posted 644 yards and 76 points in a chaotic regular season finale. Mahoney dropped back 61 times and threw five touchdowns and 440 yards, but 61 points was not enough for Syracuse.

On Saturday, Wake Forest senior John Wolford finished with six touchdowns and nearly 500 yards of total offense in a 64-43 win in the Carrier Dome. The Demon Deacons gained 736 total yards on 88 plays more than Syracuse has ever gained on its home field.

Things will not be any easier for the Orange on Saturday. Syracuse (4-6) travels to Louisville (6-4) for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff in a game that will largely determine if head coach Dino Babers's team will go bowling in year two.

The Carrier Dome record for yards (845) was set just last season by Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson in a 62-28 win. Jackson launched his 2016 Heisman trophy campaign by jumping over a Syracuse defensive back on one of four rushing touchdowns a picturesque moment that captured the then-sophomore's elite athleticism.

Last week, Jackson became the first NCAA quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in back-to-back seasons.

"I'm not sure I've ever seen anybody like him," Babers said.

If Wolford, who has been outstanding in his fourth year at Wake Forest, could exploit the Orange to such a long extent, then what might Jackson do in his second go around? This is in part why Louisville opened as a 13.5-point favorite over Syracuse. The other factor, of course, is that Syracuse has not yet won on the road.

Syracuse has lost three straight games since upsetting then-No. 2 Clemson.

"So much of sports is treating each week as its own separate week," Babers said. "The Clemson week was a high week and the weeks after that have not been so high."

If Dungey cannot play, Syracuse will once again be calling upon Mahoney, a former walk-on, in a spot start. Mahoney led Syracuse to 395 yards of offense and a 38-24 lead in the first half against Wake Forest. But Mahoney was just 11 for 25 passing with two interceptions in the second half.

"He had a fantastic first half," Babers said. "He wasn't so great the second half. But he's doing good things."

Dungey suffered his injury against Florida State two weeks ago. After warming up and putting on pads pregame last week, Dungey was a late scratch against Wake Forest.

"He really did a fantastic job," Babers said of Dungey's rehab. "From what his body looked like (last Monday) to what it came to on game day, I think he made drastic improvement.

Syracuse has the 28th-most difficult remaining schedule in college football, according to ESPN's Football Power Index, with Boston College (5-5) due up after Louisville. Short of winning out, the math is not in the Orange's favor for earning a bowl bid.

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