This time around the Tigers head to Syracuse to take on the 1-2 Orangemen in the 49,550-seat Carrier Dome. Auburn is 0-3 all-time in games played in New York, falling 7-0 to Manhattan and 19-6 and 28-6 to the Army Cadets in 1922 and '23.
Head coach Paul Pasqualoni brings his Syracuse team into the game looking to get on a roll after its first win of the season two weeks ago against Central Florida (21-10). The Orangemen opened the season with a disappointing 13-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands in which the offense never got untracked against an underrated Yellow Jacket defense. The following week the Tennessee Vols pulled away from a stubborn Orangemen club after the half to pound Syracuse 33-9 in Knoxville.
The Carrier Dome
While the defense has been very good this season for Syracuse, the offense has left much to be desired to this point. Averaging just 264 yards of total offense per game and just over 12 points per game, Syracuse has had trouble moving the football in the first three games and that has caused some questions to be asked at several positions, most notably quarterback.
Starter Troy Nunes (6-2, 185, Jr.) is expected to get the call Saturday night and he has the ability to be a very dangerous player in the Syracuse option-oriented offense. Although he averages just 0.4 yards per rush, take away his lost yardage due to sacks and he would be the second leading rusher on the team. Also a solid passer with 31 completions in 62 attempts for 341 yards and no touchdowns with three interceptions, Nunes has shown the knack to connect on his passes but has had troubles throwing the ball downfield thus far this season.
If Nunes struggles, it won't take long for Syracuse to send backup R.J. Anderson (6-1, 242, So.) into the mix. The fan favorite to win the starting job, Anderson has come up big in his little time under center. Completing just three of nine passes this year, the big guy has made it count with 112 yards and a touchdown in the little work. Also a powerful runner with the ball, he could deal the Tigers fits with his style of play if he gets the chance Saturday night.
At tailback James Mungro (5-9, 215, Sr.) is the clear leader of the offense. Leading the team in rushing with 247 yards and two touchdowns on 57 carries, the powerful Mungro excels in the Syracuse option attack where he can get to the corner easily and show his outstanding speed. If Mungro should need a break sophomore Diamond Ferri (5-10, 204) will be the man that gets the call. On the season he has 38 yards on 10 carries. At fullback big Kyle Johnson (6-1, 238, Sr.) is the man who gets the call in short yardage situations and leads Mungro into the hole with his powerful blocking.
James Mungro runs vs. Central Florida.
At wide receiver the Orangemen are loaded with talent and speed. Perhaps the most talented is 6-4, 218 Johnnie Morant. The sophomore, who was compared to Randy Moss coming out of Parsippany, N.J., two years ago, has five catches for 145 yards and the only receiving touchdown the Orangemen have this season. Junior David Tyree (6-1, 197) is the leading receiver for Syracuse with nine catches for 119 yards while starters Maurice Jackson (5-8, 169, Sr.) and Malik Campbell (6-2, 186, Sr.) have six and two catches, respectively. Tight end Graham Manley (6-3, 255, Sr.) has yet to catch a pass but is known as a fierce blocker.
Up front the Orangemen return four starters on what will be one of the best offensive lines Auburn will face this season. Left tackle P.J. Alexander (6-4, 298, Sr.), left guard Sean O'Connor (6-3, 293, Sr.), center Nick Romeo (6-1, 292, So.) and right guard Joe Burton (6-5, 287, Sr.) are back after starting the 2000 season. Joining them in the starting lineup is senior right tackle Giovanni DeLoatch (6-5, 307), who took over the job from first game starter Kevin Sampson (6-1, 277, So.). "Those guys look like they know what they are doing," notes Auburn senior defensive end James Callier.
Defensively, the Orangemen feature perhaps the best end in the nation in senior Dwight Freeney (6-1, 250, Sr.). Already credited with six sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and nine tackles for losses in just three games, Freeney is on pace to shatter his total of 13 sacks from last season when he played in just seven games. He set a Syracuse and Big East record last season with a 4 ½-sack game against Virginia Tech and number one draft choice Michael Vick. Pasqualoni says, "Freeney is not your average defensive end. He runs a sub 4.5 40-yard dash and moves laterally very well, too."
Joining the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski candidate up front for Syracuse are end Josh Thomas (6-6, 256, So.) and tackles Christian Ferrara (6-3, 276, So.) and Mark Holtzman (6-4, 259, Sr.). The trio has combined for 39 tackles, two tackles for losses and one sack this season. Sophomore defensive tackle Louis Gachelin (6-1, 280) is the top backup in the middle with seven tackles and one for loss through three games.
At the linebacker spots returning starter Clifton Smith (6-2, 249, Jr.) is back after a solid sophomore season that saw him total a team-high 108 tackles, including 18 against Miami. This season he has 21 tackles and one tackle for a loss. The other two starters are Charles Burton (6-1, 231, Sr.) and Rich Scanlon (6-1, 228, So.). In three games each have 15 tackles with two passes broken up between them.
In the secondary, returning starters Keeon Walker (5-10, 192, Jr.) at strong safety, Quentin Harris (6-0, 216, Sr.) at free safety and Willie Ford (6-2, 199, Sr.) at right cornerback form the nucleus of one of the more experienced defensive backfields in the country. Harris leads the team in tackles with 35, interceptions with two and passes defended with six. Walker is second on the team in tackles with 23 while Ford has 17 stops and four passes defended. The starter at left corner is scheduled to be Latroy Oliver, a 5-8, 191 pound junior. On the year he has 15 tackles and four passes defended.
The kicking game has been handled by Mike Shafer (5-9, 180, Jr.). He is 0-1 on field goals and has converted his only extra-point attempt. Freshman Justin Sujansky (5-10, 210) has been the most prolific scorer this season and could be the kicker Saturday night. He is 1-1 on field goals and 3-3 on extra-points. Shafer has been solid punting the ball with a 41.5 average on 22 attempts with a long punt of 53 yards.
Returning punts for Syracuse will be Jamel Riddle (six for 69 yards) and Maurice Jackson (six for 141) will return kickoffs. Both have the speed to take it the distance at any time and keeping them under wraps will be a key for the Tiger special teams.
Kickoff for the game is set for 6:50 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN. Auburn enters the game with a 2-0 record following wins over Ball State (30-0) and Ole Miss (27-21). The Tigers are looking for their third consecutive 3-0 start and fifth in the last six seasons.