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Q&A: Syracuse DE Luke Arciniega embraces underdog mentality vs. LSU

Syracuse is 3-0, but the Orange are down to their third-string quarterback and face an SEC powerhouse on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN) when LSU comes to town. We caught up with Syracuse defensive end Luke Arciniega to see how the team is getting prepared.

You guys have a lot of new starters on both sides of the ball. How much has the strong start to the season been a confidence boost for all those guys?

Luke Arciniega: I think one of the things they’ve been preaching to us is that it’s the first time we’ve been 3-0 since 1991. So that’s big for the program, and we’re happy about that. But as far as confidence for the next couple weeks, I think from here on out, no matter who we face, they’re all going to be respectable teams. So as much as we have a boost of confidence as a whole, you need to take it week by week.

I’m sure it’s not hard to do that when you watch the game film on Leonard Fournette. What jumped out at you from his performance last week against Auburn?

Arciniega: LSU is a good team. They do a great job on both offense and defense. For us, it’s just another football game. Both teams are going to strap up the same helmets and shoulder pads and go out there and play.

Fournette is getting a ton of Heisman hype now, though. You guys have to hear that, right?

Arciniega: Yeah, they’re a heavy run team and that’s one of our priorities is to stop the run. He’s a great back. We’re looking forward to getting a chance to play against that offensive line and that running back.

As much attention as Fournette gets, you guys have been really good against the run, dating to last season. Do you view this as a chance to make a statement about Syracuse’s defense?

Arciniega: Definitely. We’ve been decent in the run game, and they have a good run game. It’s going to be a good matchup and a fun game to be in. We’re looking forward to it.

What’s been the key to the strong start you’ve had on that side of the ball?

Arciniega: As a whole, the defense has been on the same page. We put a big emphasis — we have a couple young guys making contributions, and our biggest thing was making sure everybody knows the defense in and out. Not just knowing your position, but knowing what the other defensive linemen are doing or, if you’re a linebacker, knowing what the DBs are doing, how the line is moving. The coaches have done a great job getting everybody ready and really putting an emphasis on knowing the entire defense.

Syracuse didn’t get much preseason love, and you’re underdogs this week. Do you like playing with a chip on your shoulder and having something to prove?

Arciniega: Always. Definitely. That’s something Coach [Scott] Shafer preaches to us is to go into every game with a chip on your shoulder. From here on out, we’ll most likely be an underdog in a lot of these games, and as a team, that’s our mentality.

LSU is a top-10 team, but you’ve played against Clemson and Florida State, too, so this won’t be a new experience or environment, right?

Arciniega: We love when the Dome is packed and the fans come out to give us a good support system. I know they have tons of fans who are just as loud and they’ll be traveling well. The Dome will be pretty packed, but as far as the environment goes, we’re used to playing in louder stadiums — playing Florida State or Clemson. And whatever conference a team is in, the SEC or ACC, they’ll be a respectable team, and that’s how we take each week.

Syracuse is relatively new to the ACC, but is the whole SEC-ACC rivalry something you talk about before a game like this?

Arciniega: It hasn’t been really mentioned. We’re pretty new to the ACC. I think this is probably the first SEC team we’ll be facing since we’ve been in the ACC. It’s going to be a good matchup and we’re looking forward to it.

You’re off to a great start this season individually, leading the ACC with four sacks. What’s been the key for you?

Arciniega: The other guys, really. The rest of the defensive line is getting a good push and the linebackers are occupying offensive linemen, it opens things up for the defensive ends. Without those guys getting a good push, those opportunities wouldn’t be there for me to get the sacks and tackles for loss.

It’s only three weeks into the season, and Syracuse is already down two quarterbacks. That has to be frustrating for the team. How has the locker room handled it?

Arciniega: I think we’re fine. We have good confidence in all of our quarterbacks, and whoever steps up next, we’re full steam ahead behind them, and we have full confidence in them.

I read that LSU fans were worried that the city of Syracuse would run out of alcohol this weekend. Can you assure LSU fans that they will have a good time in Syracuse?

Arciniega: I hope so. I hope they enjoy the trip up here. It’s a long way for them to come.

But have a long, sad trip home?

Arciniega: Yeah. That’s what we’re shooting for.