"I found this game sexy": Those were the words of Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer (to Michael Cohen of Syracuse.com
Defensive resurgence?: There is no doubt Syracuse's defense has had spates of dominance, evidenced by last week's game; a 24-10 victory against N.C. State; and a shutout of Wagner. But those bouts were offset by lopsided losses at the hands of Georgia Tech, Clemson and Northwestern. For the year, Cuse is allowing almost 26 points per game, 378 yards per and 234 passing yards per, all of which sit among the bottom third of teams in the ACC. The Orange are holding foes to less than 145 yards on the ground, which ranks in the middle of the conference's pack, but that number was much higher before stifling Wake last week. Basically, it comes down to this: If Syracuse's pressure can bust up the backfield and rattle the quarterback, they'll have success. But if the Orange give teams time to throw, they lack the elite cover men to shut down top-flight receivers.
Speaking of pressure: Syracuse does generate its fair share. Right now the Orange is sixth in the ACC and tied for 21st nationally with 23 sacks. The Orange had two last week against Wake and boast four defenders with two or more QB takedowns, led by defensive lineman Jay Bromley's seven. Moreover, Syracuse is averaging 7.8 tackles for loss per game, tied for 12th in Division I-A and second in the ACC.
Holding strong : Yet another reason the Orange's defense is probably better than the numbers suggest is their prowess on third down and inside the red zone. Syracuse has clamped down for most of the season, allowing foes to convert just 37 of 123 third-down attempts. That 30 percent rate is good enough for eighth in Division I-A and third in the ACC. Last week Wake Forest succeeded on just 4 of 18 third downs against Cuse.
The Orange defense hasn't been quite as good inside the red zone, but they have forced five turnovers. Opponents have succeeded on 20 of 25 opportunities with 14 touchdowns and six field goals, numbers that rank 41st nationally.
Flat lining: Sorry Cuse fans, when 13 points is considered an outburst, there are problems. Fact is, the Orange went almost 100 total game minutes without a point -- from the end of their game versus N.C. State three weeks ago, through the embarrassing 56-0 loss to Georgia Tech two weeks back, and finally ending during the second half of last week's Wake game. Syracuse ranks in the ACC's bottom half in every major offensive category save rushing, and those ground-game numbers would be worse if not for stat-stuffing outings against Wagner and Tulane. For the season, Syracuse averages 25 points per game (eighth in ACC), 386 yards per game (ninth), 188 passing yards per (12th) and 18 first downs per (12th). They also are among the worst in time of possession, holding the ball for just 28 minutes a night. Their one redeeming factor ranking fourth in the ACC in rushing yards per game (198) while averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Red Zone woes: Syracuse hasn't been terrible inside the red zone, but the Orange has made their share of mistakes. They have scored on 26 of 32 penetrations inside opponents' 20 yards lines, which puts them in the bottom half of the ACC and 74th nationally. Syracuse has scored touchdowns on 21 of those 32 trips, settled for a field goal five times and turned it over six times. Last week the Orange had three chances inside Wake's 20 but came away with just one score.
A different look: After its offense was completely shut out the week before against Georgia Tech, Syracuse elected to shake things up against Wake Forest. Not only did offensive coordinator George McDonald throw diminutive fireball Brisly Estime, a 5-foot-9 burner, into the mix, but he gave the Wake defense plenty of different looks.
For example, Cuse ran a trips formation, stacked three receivers behind one another in a straight line, and even rolled out a three tight-end set. The result? Well, on the bright side Estime did catch nine passes and Syracuse put up 13 more points than the week prior. But the Orange didn't score a single point until after halftime and managed just 352 total yards, which is 30 below their season average. They had 121 yards at halftime, and if not for a 176-yard third quarter outburst, the offense would have bordered on anemic.
Yellow fever: One sure way to short-circuit an offense is untimely penalties. Syracuse has seen more than its share of yellow this year. In fact, the Orange is among the most penalized teams in the country at 7.75 flags drawn per game (115th in Division I-A). Last week Syracuse followed suit, drawing seven penalties for 65 yards.
Another killer…: Is failing to convert on third down. Even in victory last week Syracuse succeeded on just 6 of 19 third-down attempts, which is actually worse than their season average. The Orange's 36.7 percent conversion rate this season ranks 86th in the country and among the worst in the ACC.
Trickeration: When an offense is in a slump, many times coordinators turn to gimmick plays to jumpstart the engine. Syracuse had managed just seven points through 2.5 quarters last week and was coming off that aforementioned 56-0 drubbing against Georgia Tech. So, following an Isaiah Johnson (Eastern Christian Academy) interception at the Wake 25 yard line, the Cuse ran a reverse to receiver Jarrod West. West proceeded to rear back and lob a pass to Brisly Estime, who was wide open in the end zone. The touchdown gave the Orange a 13-0 lead, which, with the way Wake was playing without Campanero (broken collarbone), was more than enough.
Funny thing is, Cuse head coach Scott Shafer wanted the play thrown out. Evidently the Orange worked on that wide-receiver pass for two weeks and had zero success. "It was interception, interception, duck," Shafer told Nate Mink of Syracuse.com
Good thing Shafer wasn't calling the plays.
Winning the turnover battle: Until the Wake Forest bout, Syracuse hadn't had a turnover-free game since conference play started a month ago. The Orange currently rank 83rd in the nation with a minus-2 margin, giving the ball away 16 times (including an ACC worst 14 interceptions) and recording 14 takeaways. During the team's four victories this year the Orange have committed just two turnovers, but during the four losses they've had 14 hiccups. Coincidence? Probably not.
Local flavor showing out: OK, so they're from Delaware, but Eastern Christian Academy, whether we like it or not, is considered a Maryland school. Last year, Syracuse signed one of ECA's top defensive line recruits, Isaiah Johnson, a 6-foot-4, 270 pounder who worked his way into the two deep during his first year. And last week, following an injury to defensive lineman Eric Crume, Johnson came up big for the Cuse. With Wake at its own 25-yard line trailing 7-0 in the third quarter, Johnson leaped up and swatted away a Tanner Price pass before laying out in a full-out Superman dive. Johnson ended up picking off the tipped ball right before it hit the turf, and a play later Syracuse scored the game-clinching touchdown. Later during the game, the former ECA star added a half-sack to cap off his day.
Welcome to the ACC: Syracuse, which officially joined the ACC back on July 1, has eight conference games this year, and so far the Orange are 2-2 after knocking off Wake. The Cuse has actually played Maryland 34 times in its history, third most among all other ACC foes. Of those 34 meetings, Syracuse has won 18 times, Maryland has won 14 and there have also been two ties.
Block party: Perhaps it was an isolated incident, but it's a stat worth noting. Back on Sept. 21, Syracuse blocked three Tulane kicks in one game, including a pair of punt blocks from defensive back Darius Kelly and defensive tackle Eric Crume and a field-goal rejection courtesy of defensive tackle John Raymon. The only other team that's blocked three kicks in a game this year was UAB against Florida Atlantic.
Everyone loves a QB controversy: Though the Syracuse coaches have stood behind Terrel Hunt (6-3, 220), the sophomore gunslinger isn't exactly inspiring confidence. Hunt, a dual threat who can make plays with his feet (he's the team's third leading rusher with 313 yards), managed to complete just 18 of 30 passes for 144 yards against Wake Forest and was routinely off-target on his mid- to deep throws. Hunt performs better when he's throwing short, quick passes, but don't expect him to hit guys in stride on fly routes. For the season Hunt has completed just 58 percent of his throws for seven touchdowns against six interceptions.
Problem is the guy behind him isn't much better. Senior Drew Allen (6-5, 226) started Syracuse's first three games and proceeded to throw two touchdowns against – count ‘em – eight interceptions. Allen is completing just 56 percent of his throws and, though he has a stronger arm than Hunt, doesn't bring that added running dimension. So given that, expect Hunt to remain the starter, for better or worse.
Continuing to plow ahead: Syracuse has traditionally been a strong running program, and that's the case once again in 2013. Ranked in the top third of the ACC in rushing yards per game (198) and rush average (4.9), the Cuse rely on their ground attack to generate any semblance of offense. Junior Jerome Smith (6-0, 226) anchors the unit with 116 carries for 587 yards and eight touchdowns, the latter stat ranking among the ACC's top 10 for scoring. Smith had 17 carries for 62 yards last week against Wake Forest.
Complementing the bruising Smith is senior Prince-Tyson Gulley (5-10, 190), who has 77 carries for 437 yards (5.7 average) and four touchdowns this season. Gulley, who finished with 82 yards on 13 carries last week, ripped off a 67-yard run against Wake Forest, which was Syracuse's longest rush of the year.
Getting it done up front: Smith and Gulley are the beneficiaries of an offensive line that came in with questions marks (two new starters) but has played relatively well all season. Not only are they paving the way for a ground attack that is averaging almost 5 yards a pop and racked up 300 yards in back-to-back games earlier this year, but they've also allowed just 11 sacks all fall. Wake Forest got to Hunt just once last week, and for the season Syracuse is allowing just around 1.4 sacks per game, putting them fourth in the ACC and among the top 35 teams nationally.
Senior center Macky MacPherson (6-2, 290), who is the grandson of College Football Hall of Fame coach Dick MacPherson and is among the most tenured linemen in the ACC, anchors the front five and has started each of the last three years. He's on the Rimington Award watch list, an award given to the nation's top center.
MacPherson is one of those lynchpin linemen who make the guys around him better. And he's certainly helped right guard Nick Robinson (6-5, 297) and converted right tackle Ivan Foy (6-4, 313), a pair of sophomores both in their first years starting. While there have been some growing pains on the right side of Syracuse's line (see: losses to Clemson and Georgia Tech), Robinson and Foy have done enough to maintain their starting jobs.
The left side is the group's main strength, however, as much of Syracuse's rushing attack goes over that part of the line. Junior left tackle Sean Hickey (6-5, 291) has a future on Sundays and is considered one of the stoutest, most powerful linemen in the ACC. Next to him, sophomore Rob Trudo (6-3, 284) started several games last season and brings a tough, physical presence to the group. The blue-collar Pennsylvanian is a grinder who knows how to win leverage wars down low.
The receivers haven't helped: Much of the blame for Syracuse's anemic passing attack falls on the quarterbacks, but the wide outs are hardly helping matters. Though talented, the group tends to fade in and out, showing flashes of potential and then disappearing for stretches.
Take junior Jarrod West (6-2, 203), who leads the team with 300 receiving yards (on 15 catches) this season. West had gone several weeks without so much as a peep before he hauled in two big catches for 58 yards -- not to mention a touchdown pass off a trick play -- last week. Freshman Brisly Estime (5-9, 170), meanwhile, is a dynamite athlete who was relegated to backup duty until finally seeing field time last week. After catching just eight passes during the first seven games, Estime responded with nine catches for 62 yards and a touchdown against Wake.
The team's leading receiver, sophomore Ashton Broyld (6-2, 221), has 30 catches for 294 yards but has yet to reach the end zone. He was actually shelved in favor of the speed Estime last week.
Senior Christopher Clark (5-11, 160) is third on the squad with 23 catches for 256 yards, though he's No. 1 with three touchdown catches. Clark, however, isn't much of a field stretcher and last week had a quiet three catches for 19 yards.
Though listed as a starter, junior Jeremiah Kobena (6-0, 182) has just 14 catches for 179 yards and hasn't made much noise.
Syracuse's tight end, senior Beckett Wales (6-3, 255), is known more for his run blocking than pass-catching prowess. He's pulled in six passes all season.
The Bromley Show: The most touted unit on the team, Syracuse's defensive line racks up the sacks (11) and limits opposing running games (3.7 YPC). Senior defensive tackle Jay Bromley (6-4, 285), who was a first-team midseason All-ACC selection, is one of the primary reasons Cuse ranks among the top five teams in the ACC in run defense. Bromley was an absolute monster last week against Wake Forest, recording four tackles, a sack and generating constant pressure up the middle. For the season Bromley has 27 tackles and a team-high 10 TFLs and seven sacks, to go along with three forced fumbles.
Typically junior Eric Crume (6-0, 305) lines up next to Bromley inside, but he was injured during the Wake Forest game. That forced freshman Isaiah Johnson (6-4, 270) into action, and he responded with two tackles and the previously mentioned sack and interception. Crume, however, could be back this week, and he's been a solid plugger when healthy. He has 17 tackles, a sack and 2.5 TFLs.
On the edge, junior Robert Welsh (6-3, 256) has 26 tackles, five TFLs, two sacks, an interceptions and three breakups. Welsh had four tackles and a couple pressures against Wake last week.
Linebackers cleaning up: The beneficiaries of a D-line that eats up blockers, Syracuse's linebackers are hole stuffers and downhill thumpers. Senior Marquis Spruill (6-1, 224), a midseason second-team All-ACC selection, leads the way and has been around seemingly forever. A brainy, durable player, he has 44 consecutive starts, which is tied for the most in the nation. Spruill ranks third on the team with 44 tackles, nine TFLs and 3.5 sacks; last week he had three stops and a half-sack.
Junior outside linebacker Cameron Lynch (5-11, 230) is undersized but productive coming off the edge. He had four tackles, two quarterback hits and 1.5 TFLs last week and is second on the squad with 45 stops in 2013. Lynch also has seven TFLs, a sack, an interceptions and four breakups thus far.
The second outside linebacker, junior Dyshawn Davis (6-2, 220), has 23 tackles, four TFLs, half a sack and two quarterback hits this season. He recorded two stops and 1.5 TFLs against Wake. His complement, junior Josh Kirkland (6-2, 204), has piled up 28 tackles, 5.5 TFLs and two pass breakups.
Junior Luke Archiega (6-2, 240) fills in at MLB and had two stops against Wake Forest. He has 15 tackles, two TFLs and a sack in 2013.
Safety help: Syracuse's pass defense has had its struggles allowing 234 yards per game this year (bottom three in the ACC), but Cuse's first three safeties -- senior Jeremi Wilkes (5-9, 179), junior Ritchy Desir (5-11, 187) and sophomore Durrell Eskridge (6-3, 207) -- have all contributed to the interception category this year.
Eskridge led the team in tackles against Wake with five and has a nine-tackle advantage over his next-closest teammate with 54 for the season. On top of that, Eskridge has two TFLs, a half-sack and a team-high tying two picks.
Wilkes, meanwhile, has 18 tackles and a pick, while Desir has 25 tackles and an interception as well. But these guys have made their share of errors as receivers have beaten them deep, and there have been communication issues as well, according to Syracuse beat writers.
On the outside, junior corner Brandon Reddish (5-11, 186) and senior corner Ri'Shard Anderson (6-, 190) have combined for two pass breakups and one pick. Neither has had what you'd call a standout campaign, though they have played OK in spots. Sophomore nickel Julian Whigham (6-1, 187) is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and did a good job shadowing Wake's Michael Campanero before he went down with a collarbone injury. But when Syracuse played Clemson, Tigers QB Tajh Boyd torched these two to the tune of 455 yards and five touchdowns.
Sauerkraut: Syracuse's kicking game took a major blow when senior kicker Ross Krautman went down with a hip-related injury during the Orange's Week 2 game against Northwestern. Krautman ranked in the top 10 in all of Syracuse's major career kicking categories, including made field goals (49) and success rate (77 percent). To make matters worse, the Cuse lost another kicker when Ryan Norton was suspended for the Wake game after being arrested for underage possession of alcohol. But while Norton missed the Wake Forest game, forcing Syracuse to employ its punters as place kickers, he should be back against Maryland. For the season Norton has made 4-of-6 field goals and has a long of 34 yards.
Junior Jonathan Fisher (6-1, 209), the team's starting punter to begin the season, lost his job after the Northwestern game. Fisher had a chance to kick again last week in Norton's absence, but Syracuse didn't attempt a field goal. Fisher did, however, have a chance to kick a pair of extra points, the second of which was blocked. Sorry Mr. Fisher, missed point-after-attempts don't earn you a starting job.
With Fisher benched, sophomore Riley Dixon (6-5, 205) has assumed the starting punting duties. Last week Dixon had two games worth of punts, booting the ball 11 times for an average of 40 yards. He had a long of 55 yards and sent three of those 11 inside the Wake 20-yard line. For the season, Dixon, who ranks second in the ACC in punting, has averaged 43 yards per boot, sent 12 punts 50-plus yards and placed 15 inside opponents' 20 yard lines.
Talk about a snake-bit special teams. Not only have the kickers suffered injuries, but top kick returner George Morris was ruled out last week. Morris, who is averaging 19 yards per bring-back, could return to face Maryland. But a more explosive return man, Gulley, has a 26-yard return average, which is easily tops on the team.
Syracuse's punt returner, Desir, is averaging just 3.44 yards per bring back, one of the lowest averages in the ACC. He has a long of just 16 yards this year and hasn't been much of a threat.