3DownNation CanCon Game of the Week: Liberty at Syracuse

Photo Courtesy: Syracuse Football

Last week was a rough one for my 3DownNation prognostication. I went a season worst six for eleven in my Canadian game picks, dropping down to 40 of 53 on the year.

The blow was soften by a primetime shootout in the CanCon Game of the Week as Alabama and Ole Miss exceeded all expectation. Let’s chalk the rest up to turkey brain and start fresh in Week 7.

While we’ve had a string of matchups that pitted high profile Canadians against each other — and we’ll see plenty more in the coming weeks — this weekend is a bit of a lull on the schedule. Only one game in Week 7 features Canadians playing against each other and it also has the highest volume of Canadians on the field.

Liberty (-3) at Syracuse
Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY
Saturday, October 17 at 9:00 a.m. PST/ 12:00 p.m. EST
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There are teams in college football that you expect to be undefeated. The Alabamas, Georgias and Clemsons of the world. Some undefeated teams are surprising but well known, like Marshall or SMU. An undefeated Coastal Carolina might even be down right shocking. Yet nothing is quite as remarkable as the Liberty Flames, in just their second full season of FBS eligibility, rolling through opponents to a 4-0 record.

Liberty’s next test is a deeply disappointing Syracuse team that can’t quite figure themselves out. After finally notching a win against Georgia Tech, the Orange fell to winless Duke a week ago and lost starting quarterback Tommy DeVito in the process. Taking down the Flames could be the only way to salvage their 2020 season.

What Syracuse does have going for it is boatloads of quality Canadian content. The star of that contingent has been sophomore middle linebacker Geoff Cantin-Arku of Levis, Quebec. The athletic defender is routinely all over the field for the struggling Orange and leads the team in tackles with 32. Of those, 26 were solo tackles, 10 more than the next closest member of the team. He is also one of the Orange’s top pass rushers and is tied for the team lead with seven quarterback pressures, despite only blitzing 23 times this season.

Against Duke, Cantin-Arku scooped up a loose ball to score his first career touchdown and he’ll need to make plenty more plays to threaten a Liberty offence that ranks among the top 25 in the country in scoring.

The Flames are led by dynamic dual-threat Auburn transfer Malik Willis, who does most of his damage with his feet. The prospect of a two-headed rushing attack with Willis and running back Joshua Mack will give Syracuse sleepless nights, especially considering they have one of college football’s worst run defences, giving up an average of 231 yards on the ground per game.

Besides Cantin-Arku, the battle between the Liberty offence and Syracuse defence will also see some bit contributions by other Canadians. Outside linebacker Tyrell Richards missed last week’s game with an injury and wasn’t listed on the Syracuse depth chart, but he hasn’t officially been ruled out and could see time as a rotational edge rusher and special teamer.

True freshman Ben Labrosse returned from injury last week and made two tackles in reps at safety, a spot where Syracuse is thin following the season-ending injury to All-American Andre Cisco. On the other side, Toronto’s John Kourtis is the designated backup for Liberty at center and can fill in at guard, seeing about 10 snaps per game in specific packages.

When Syracuse has the ball, everything hinges on the troublesome performance of their offensive line. Whether run blocking or pass blocking, the group up front for the Orange has been ineffective all season long and Pro Football Focus rates them as one of the worst units in the country with every player posting grades in the 50s or 40s.

To try and kickstart the group, Canadian Matthew Bergeron was moved from right tackle to left tackle last week. That’s a difficult transition and the results weren’t instant, but he’ll stay on the blindside against Liberty. The sophomore will get tested plenty by edge defender Durrell Johnson, who has five sacks on the season.

Senior Patrick Davis of Gatineau is a backup at guard and his lack of playing time on a rough unit is an indictment of his potential. Freshman receiver Damian Alford is also on the team but is redshirting.

If Bergeron and his line get it together, they have the potential to get a leg up on the Flames. Liberty is giving up more rushing yardage (250 per game) than even the lowly Orange, but a hobbled Sean Tucker will need space from the boys up front to make anything happen. There is also protecting the feel-good story of senior quarterback Rex Culpepper, who overcame testicular cancer in 2018 and will start in the place of the injured DeVito.

Warm and fuzzy story or not, it will take a lot for the Orange to end Liberty’s unbeaten streak. Hugh Freeze’s offensive is strong where Dino Babers’ team is weak and Syracuse lacks the weapons to win in a shootout. Liberty should take this comfortably.

Pick straight-up: Liberty
Pick against the spread: Liberty (-3)

Other Week 7 NCAA games featuring Canadians

Coastal Carolina at No. 21 Louisiana
CanCon: Enock Makonzo, WLB, JR (CC), Wilt Gabe II, DE, SO (CC)
Result: 30-27 Coastal Carolina

No. 14 BYU (-5) at Houston
CanCon: Olivier Charles-Pierre, NT, SR (Hou)
Pick: BYU

No. 1 Clemson (-27) at Georgia Tech
CanCon: Ajou Ajou, REC, FR (Clem)
Pick: Clemson

Pittsburgh at No. 13 Miami (-13.5)
CanCon: Jared Wayne, REC, SO (Pitt), Liam Dick, OL, FR (Pitt)
Pick: Miami

Kentucky at No. 18 Tennessee (-6)
CanCon: Josh Palmer, REC, SR (Ten)
Pick: Tennessee

Texas State at South Alabama (-3)
CanCon: Samuel Obiang, NT, SO (TexSt)
Pick: Texas State

Kansas at West Virginia (-22.5)
CanCon: Alonzo Addae, FS, SR (WV), Akheem Mesidor, DT, FR (WV)
Pick: West Virginia

Duke at NC State (-4.5)
CanCon: Daniel Joseph, DE, SR (NCSt)
Pick: NC State

Ole Miss (-1.5) at Arkansas
CanCon: Tavius Robinson, OLB, JR (Miss), Deane Leonard, CB, SR (Miss)
Pick: Ole Miss

UMass at Georgia Southern (-31)
CanCon: Samuel Emilus, REC, JR (Mass), Tyris Lebeau, FS, JR (Mass)
Pick: Georgia Southern

Virginia (-2.5) at Wake Forest
CanCon: Terrell Jana, REC, SR (Vir)
Pick: Wake Forest

Marshall (-13.5) at Louisiana Tech
CanCon: Gabe Siemieniec, PK, SR (LATech)
Pick: Marshall

No. 5 North Carolina (-14) at Florida State
CanCon: Patrice Rene, CB, SR (UNC)
Pick: North Carolina

No. 3 Georgia at No. 2 Alabama (-4.5)
CanCon: John Metchie III, REC, SO (Ala)
Pick: Alabama

Boston College at No. 23 Virginia Tech (-12.5)
CanCon: Ezechiel Tieide, REC, SO (BC)
Pick: Boston College

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.