Syracuse and Louisville battle inside the Carrier Dome on Friday night in the first matchup between the two schools as ACC foes. Here is a look at the Orange entering the matchup
Syracuse runs a spread, up-tempo offense with zone-read and power running principles. The quarterback is frequently lined up in the shotgun or pistol, and the Orange use three or more wide receiver formations most of the time.
They throw a lot of short passes, specifically the bubble screen, to try to get their playmakers the ball in space. A mobile quarterback gives them the ability to test defenses with the zone-read. The Orange also keep defenses off balance by pushing the tempo and utilizing a no-huddle approach.
Terrel Hunt struggled with consistency last season, but entered this year poised to lead the Orange offense to a more productive season. He is more mature and more comfortable within the offense.
Hunt may be at his best when he is using his legs to move the chains. While not a burner, he is not overly quick but is elusive with a big frame that makes him tough to bring down. Hunt is also the leader of the team and plays well in crunch time.
The key for Hunt is going through his progressions, making the right reads and delivering an accurate ball in the intermediate passing game. Syracuse does not throw the deep ball often, which puts a premium on short and mid-range accuracy. Hunt has been inconsistent in those areas. When he is sharp, the Syracuse offense moves the ball well. When he is not, they struggle.
Syracuse will use a plethora of skill position players both at running back and wide receiver. In the backfield, Prince-Tyson Gulley is the leader of the pack. The senior back is quicker than he is fast but has the most explosiveness of the group. He is also the biggest threat out of the backfield in the passing game. Gulley is at his best between the tackles making quick cuts to get to the open field.
Adonis Ameen-Moore is the power back who will get his share of carries. He has slimmed down from prior years, which has helped his footwork and quickness, but he is still primarily a downhill, power type. Ameen-Moore will not dazzle you with agility or athleticism, but can get tough yards straight ahead.
George Morris and DeVante McFarlane enter their sophomore seasons. Both are balanced running backs who have a nice combination of speed and power. Neither has received a lot of work this season because of all of the options Syracuse has at the position. McFarlane was out with an injury last week and may not play against the Cardinals either.
Freshman Ervin Philips was thought to be the odd man out but has seen increased playing time over the last three weeks. He is still working on bulking up a bit, but is a shifty player who is a scat-back type. You will also see him line up in the slot on occasion.
Syracuse uses several receivers in their rotation. Adrian Flemming, Jarrod West, Steve Ishmael, Ben Lewis and Quinta Funderburk all play on the outside. Brisly Estime and Ashton Broyld are the slot receivers (or h-backs in the ‘Cuse offense).
Broyld and Estime are battling injures. Broyld was the team’s leading receiver before missing last week’s game. He is out against Louisville. Estime aggrevated an ankle injury against Notre Dame. Expect him to play, but the injury will hamper his speed and explosiveness.
Flemming and West are possession receiver types. Both are upper classmen and have long, lean bodies. Neither is especially fast. Ishmael is a true freshman and may have the most raw talent of the bunch. He is still adjusting to the speed of the college game. He has excellent hands and is an improving route runner.
Lewis is a strong blocker for the bubble screens that they like the run and also catches everything thrown his way. He does not possess big time speed, however. Funderburk is a former four-star recruit who transferred from Arkansas. He has yet to put it all together at Syracuse and has been largely invisible.
Alvin Cornelius rotates in at times. He also is a strong blocker with good hands. Cornelius lacks elite speed or shiftiness, which keeps him off the field in many situations.
Josh Parris is the starting tight end. He missed the first two games of the season due to injury, but is the most complete player the Orange have at the position. He gives Syracuse a strong blocker and athletic receiving option over the middle. In the two games in which he has played, he has yet to record a reception.
Behind him is Kendall Moore, a sophomore who is a skilled blocker. Unfortunately for him, his hands are below average. He suffered a concussion against the Irish and is doubtful to play this week. True freshman Jamal Custis is very raw, but has a lot of ability. He has a tremendous 6-foot-6 frame that can cause big matchup problems in the red zone. He has been primarily used on bubble screens thus far, which is a bit of a surprise given his lack of speed or elusiveness.
Tyler Provo may see some action as well in bigger sets. Like Moore, he is more of a blocking option.
In the Trenches
The Syracuse offensive line is as deep as it has been in years. There have been some early season injuries that have tested that depth. The starting group, when fully healthy, returns four starters from last season’s solid group.
They are led by NFL prospect Sean Hickey at left tackle. He is strong, has excellent footwork and uses his hands very well. Hickey is solid in both pass protection and as a lead run blocker.
The two guards are Rob Trudo and Nick Robinson. Both are skilled run blockers. Robinson is also solid in pass protection while Trudo struggles at times in that area. Robinson has dealt with an injury throughout training camp and saw his first action against Central Michigan.
Omari Palmer provides depth at the guard position. He had a strong spring and training camp until an injury sidelined him for week one. Palmer may see some action as well. Similar to Trudo, he is a better run blocker than pass protector. He is susceptible to both the bull rush by powerful defensive tackles.
Trudo and Palmer have split time at guard. Who starts and receives the most snaps fluctuates game to game.
Rounding out the interior lineman is the lone newcomer to the five man group. Center John Miller takes over for the graduated Macky MacPherson who was a three-year starter. He has not seen significant action prior to this season in about two years. He struggled in week one against Villanova but was better the last two weeks. Miller is sometimes too high out of his stance and loses leverage against strong defensive tackles.
At right tackle, Ivan Foy completes the starting five. Foy is a solid run blocker but struggles with quick pass rushing ends due to slow feet. He has good size for the position and uses his hands well. Foy is battling a knee injury and is also doubtful this week.
Michael Lasker is the primary backup at both tackle positions and provides quality depth. He will start assuming Foy cannot go. While he is a solid backup, he struggles with consistency at times. Specifically, speed rushers really give him problems.
Syracuse runs a base 4-3 defensive system. They are very aggressive within their scheme frequently blitzing their opponent in both run and pass situations. They like to bring pressure any of the linebacker positions and even use a defensive back on occasion. In nickel and dime situations, they utilize a 3-3-5 formation, which they call the “Okie” package.
In the Trenches
The Syracuse defensive line is the biggest question mark on the entire team. They return three starters from a year ago, but lost their most productive defensive lineman (Jay Bromley) to the NFL.
Defensive ends Micah Robinson and Robert Welsh start. Both are solid players who are better against the run than rushing the passer. Neither offers consistent pressure off the edge. Isaiah Johnson and Donnie Simmons also rotate in. Both are better rushing the passer but give up a bit against the run.
In the middle, Eric Crume is the guy to watch. He is a bit shorter than is ideal but is very strong and plays with low pad level. Crume is skilled at filling the gap and plugging up running lanes.
The other tackle spot is done by committee. Ron Thompson has emerged as a contributor and has started the last three weeks. He is undersized for a tackle, but is extremely athletic with a quick first step. Thompson will see time at defensive end as well and may be the team’s best pass rusher.
Ryan Sloan, Marcus Coleman and Wayne Williams will also rotate in at tackle. Williams is the most talented of the group and has been seeing more snaps over the last two weeks. He is a big, physical tackle who eats up blocks and fills gaps well.
The Back Seven
The back seven is the heart and soul of the Syracuse defense. The two outside linebackers, Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch, are skilled blitzers who are extremely athletic and quick. Davis, however, struggles against the run and in coverage. Lynch is the defensive leader who has led Syracuse in tackles in each of the first three games. He has strong instincts and tackles very well.
The man in the middle is Marqez Hodge. Hodge emerged last season as a true freshman and has taken over the starting middle linebacker position this year. He is still a little bit raw, but has good instincts and is a powerful tackler. At times, he takes poor angles, which causes him to miss tackles.
Senior Josh Kirkland, senior Luke Arciniega and true freshmen Zaire Franklin provide depth to the group. Kirkland is an effort backer who plays out of position frequently but makes up for it with his high motor. Franklin is still learning but can play inside or outside. He has ideal size and has strong tackling technique.
Arciniega is an old school middle linebacker who does not possess strong lateral quickness. Instead, he is a downhill type who plays with power.
In the secondary, the Orange are led by safety Durell Eskridge. He has NFL size for the position with speed, athleticism, strength and playmaking ability. He is the most talented defensive player on the roster. His only weakness is inconsistency in coverage.
He finally broke out against Notre Dame with nine tackles, an interception returned for a touchdown and a fumble recover. That performance earned him ACC co-defensive back of the week.
Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir both rotate in at strong safety. Both are solid but unspectacular. Chauncey Scissum provides depth, but is inexperienced.
At corner, Julian Whigham and Brandon Reddish get the starting nod. Whigham is a taller corner with long arms and solid closing speed. Reddish is a bit smaller but more agile. Neither is an elite shut down type, but both are solid.
Both Whigham and Reddish have been prone to giving up the big play this season. Especially over the last two weeks, they struggled against the vertical passing game which is a big concern going forward.
Wayne Morgan is normally the nickel corner, but is out this week with a knee injury. Corey Winfield, who transitioned to corner from wide receiver this fall, and true freshman Antwan Cordy provide depth. Winfield was victimized last week on a deep post and Cordy has not seen consistent action this year.
Syracuse’s strength on special teams is their punter Riley Dixon. He has a powerful leg and is on the Ray Guy Award watch list. Dixon is also tied for the team lead in touchdown passes and led the Orange in rushing against Notre Dame due to a 42-yard scamper on a fake punt. While he is a skilled punter, you have to keep an eye on him if the Orange get creative.
Kicker Ryan Norton has struggled with accuracy. He has missed three field goals this season already, including two short ones. Freshman walk-on Cole Murphy hit a 49-yarder against Maryland and got the start against the Irish. He will likely be the guy again this week, but it won’t be announced until game time.
The Orange have two returners who are playmaking threats. Brisly Estime is the punt returner with elite speed and shiftiness. But again, his ankle injury may give way to Ritchy Desir. Desir does not have the same explosiveness, but has good hands and will not make a big mistake.
Ervin Philips, a true freshman, returns kickoffs. He has big play ability as well but has not proven it on the college level.
The coverage units have been solid this season, save a punt return touchdown in week one.
Syracuse came into the season hoping to take the next step as a program. They are still a ways away from getting back to a perennial top-25 team like they were in the 90’s, but the talent on the roster has been improving over the last several years. Because of the two game losing streak and the upcoming schedule, the Friday night tilt with Louisville may be a must win.