1. What were the realistic expectations for this team going into the season, and how much have they changed (if at all) after this 3-0 start?
Coming into the season, local media and fans expected Syracuse to finish somewhere between a 4-8 and 6-6 record. The 3-0 start helps push the low end of those expectations up a bit, but most are still looking at bowl eligibility as the main objective. Anything beyond that would be gravy. Nationally, many had Syracuse with three or fewer wins. Clearly those seem to be inaccurate. The fan base was a bit lethargic about the team coming into the season, as is evidenced by the poor attendance in each of the first three games. An emerging freshman quarterback and a strong start should help that going forward, especially if they keep winning.
2. How will Syracuse determine its starting quarterback for Saturday? How big is the dropoff from Eric Dungey to these two, and what style of quarterbacks are they?
Through Wednesdays’ practice, the coaching staff says that walk-on Zack Mahoney will be the starter. I still expect that Austin Wilson will make an appearance, however. The drop off here is substantial, in my opinion. Dungey has uncommon poise and maturity for a true freshman, and was playing really good football prior to the injury. In fact, he would be leading the nation in passer efficiency if he had a few more attempts in order to qualify. Neither Mahoney nor Wilson are on the same level as Dungey.
Mahoney is a mobile quarterback. A true dual threat. You will see Syracuse run some triple option with him and use his mobility to their advantage. Where he struggles is arm strength. From the little we have seen of him, it appears to be average at best. He seems to throw an accurate ball, but I’m not sure he has the arm strength to throw the ball deep down the field.
Wilson is more of a traditional drop back, pocket passer. He lacks mobility, but has superior arm talent compared to Mahoney. His arm strength is above average and he throws an accurate ball on short and intermediate routes. The inability to use his legs as a weapon limits what Syracuse can do offensively. Also, he struggles at times with decision making, leading to interceptions.
3. Syracuse is getting three players back from injury — Steve Ishmael, Josh Parris and Rob Trudo. How important is it to have those guys back in the fold?
This is huge. Syracuse has been on the wrong end of the injury bug for the last two seasons. This year alone, they are already down two quarterbacks and arguably their best offensive playmaker in Ervin Philips.
Ishmael is their clear number one receiver. He has size, athleticism, runs crisp routes and catches everything thrown his way. He does not have elite speed, but is fast enough to get the job done. Having Ishmael back gives Syracuse one of their top playmakers back.
Josh Parris is Syracuse’s best all around tight end. They do not look his way all that often in the passing game, but he does have the ability to make plays there. Parris is also a solid blocker, which helps in the run game.
Trudo might be the most important of the three. He is arguably Syracuse’s best run blocker, and having him help open holes in the middle is critical to their success. Especially in a game like this with as much size, strength and athleticism as LSU has.
4. Syracuse has one of the best turnover margins in the country. What does this defense do that leads to so many turnovers?
It’s all about pressure for Syracuse. They blitz early and often. They mix up their blitz packages in order to confuse and do something new every week. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough has been a master at this over his two-plus seasons with the Orange.
The constant pressure speeds up their opponents, forcing them to make decisions more quickly than desired. This leads to turnovers. Whether it is getting to the quarterback quickly for strip sacks or forcing throws into coverage, Syracuse has a knack for creating turnovers. They have done that regardless of opponent over the last three seasons.
5. What is this team saying about Leonard Fournette? Will they change some things around defensively to focus on him, or do they have the type of defense built to try and stop a running attack like LSU's?
The coaching is saying what everyone else is saying. That Leonard Fournette is about as special a running back as they have faced in their entire coaching career. Syracuse is going to do what they do. Be disciplined in their gap assignments, gang tackle and bring extra players to try to get tackles for loss.
Syracuse prides themselves on stopping the run, and that has been a focus ever since Scott Shafer took over as defensive coordinator and into his tenure as head coach.
What they may do differently is more run blitzes as opposed to those designed to get to the quarterback. They may also bring an extra man down into the box to help get as many players as possible on Fournette and gang tackle him. Largely, however, Syracuse will stick to their scheme and their system.