Five Questions: Syracuse

We ask, they answer: CuseNation.com publisher Mike McAllister stops by to answer five questions regarding the Syracuse Orange.

1.) Three-hundred seventy rushing yards? Nearly 600 yards of total offense and more than 200 total yards than Maryland managed? How in the world did the Orange lose going away to the Terrapins last week?

Mike McAllister: This is the same question that frustrated Syracuse fans were asking themselves as they exited the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The Orange offense moved the ball at will against Maryland. They controlled the line of scrimmage, had open receivers and ran the ball very well between the tackles.

Terrel Hunt was also very good with his legs. He utilized designed runs and scrambles on pass plays to burn the Terrapins defense routinely Saturday afternoon.

The problem is that Syracuse could not get out of their own way. Turnovers, penalties and costly mistakes prevented the Orange for putting more points on the board. Trailing 24-13, wide receiver Adrian Flemming ran an option route based on the coverage. He read one thing, Hunt read another and the result was a pick six that changed the feel of the game.

On the next drive, Syracuse committed two holding penalties and an illegal shift penalty after setting up first and goal. The result was a missed field goal before halftime.

So yes, Syracuse dominated statistically. But the mistakes and giving up big plays to Maryland were why the scoreboard did not reflect the rest of the numbers.

2.) Notre Dame's offensive line has been unexpectedly spotty to begin 2014. Does Syracuse have a front seven that could cause the Irish offense to play from behind the chains, or perhaps turn them one-dimensional, relying on quarterback Everett Golson to put the offense on his back?

MM: The simple answer is yes to a certain extent. The Syracuse front seven has been very good at stopping the run this year, save for dual threat quarterback John Robertson of Villanova. Most of his runs were on scrambles rather than designed runs.

Other than Robertson, Syracuse is holding opponents to just 2.4 yards per carry. They have been quite stout defending the rush. Especially on runs between the tackle, that is where the front seven is at its best. On runs to the outside, the defensive ends can get sucked inside on occasion.

The linebackers are the strength of the defensive unit and possess a strong combination of speed, size and experience. Cameron Lynch is the defensive leader and is a very good tackler.

As good as they have been against the run, they struggle to get to the quarterback consistently on passing plays. The defensive ends do not provide pressure and the Orange rely on bringing the blitz with their linebackers. That leaves the secondary vulnerable and the defense vulnerable to the bubble or traditional screen.

Even if Syracuse limits Notre Dame’s effectiveness on the ground, the Irish could still have a strong offensive night.

3.) What can Irish fans expect to see from Terrell Hunt under center? He's the third dual-threat quarterback Notre Dame has faced this season, but the first two Rice's Driphus Jackson and Michigan's Devin Gardner, did very little damage on the ground (or through the air). Is Hunt a phenomenal runner, or just a good running quarterback?

MM: Hunt is neither quick nor fast. He does not do his damage on the ground by outrunning people. But he is still extremely effective running with the ball in his hands. He is a big, powerful player who has a different running style than the previous Notre Dame opponents.

Hunt has a knack for making defenders miss despite his lack of speed. That has worked very well this season as he leads the team in rushing and is averaging seven yards per carry.

That said, Hunt has struggled with accuracy throughout his career. He is completing less than 59% of his passes and missed several open receivers against Maryland. His accuracy will be a key to the success of the Syracuse offense against a good Notre Dame defense.

In short, Hunt is a good running quarterback who is probably more successful on the ground than his raw skills would suggest. He just has a knack for making plays with his feet.

4.) Syracuse held Central Michigan to 3, then gave up 31 in the first half to Maryland. Other than the obvious talent disparity between those foes, what made the Orange successful defensively for 60 minutes vs. the Chippewas, and can they dial that up on occasion vs. a stronger foe such as the Irish?

MM: The Syracuse defense has kind of been the tale of inconsistency this season. In the opener against Villanova, they struggled and gave up 26 points to an FCS squad. The bounce back against Central Michigan was closer to what we expected to see from a largely veteran unit.

The strong performance against Central Michigan was largely due to the lack of a big play threat from the Chippewas. They were missing their top wide receiver in Titus Davis and top running back in Thomas Rawls. That allowed Syracuse to really load up on bringing pressure nearly every play which flustered CMU’s offense.

Against Maryland, Syracuse struggled giving up the big play. The Terps had a 90-yard touchdown on a bubble screen and a 25-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that really were their two biggest plays. Other than that, the Syracuse defense was solid against Maryland.

The Orange held the Terps to less than 100-yards of offense in the second half and fewer than three yards per carry overall.

Notre Dame poses the most offensive weapons that Syracuse will have seen to date when you look at a dual threat quarterback, big time playmakers on the outside and big play threats in the backfield. It will test the discipline of the Orange secondary that has struggled to this point.

Yes Syracuse could put together a strong defensive effort against the Irish. Their willingness to bring pressure frequently always gives them a chance to stifle opponents. But it can also leave them vulnerable to big plays. Expect the Syracuse defense to be solid against the Notre Dame running backs, but struggled to contain Golson and the receivers down the field.

5.) Hunt has been kicked out of a game after losing his cool this season. He appeared to respond late against CMU with the (never-gets-old) scoreboard gesture as a point of emphasis. Does that competitive, fiery persona fuel the team and benefit him as a player? Or will he have to reign it in vs. an Irish defense that rubbed salt in Michigan's wounds after nearly every play in a shut-out win earlier this month?

MM: Hunt is normally calm, cool and collected which is why those two incidents were a big surprising. He should be fine against Notre Dame. Off the field issues or letting opponents get into his head are not characteristic for Hunt’s normal behavior.

Last season, his calm, mature demeanor was a big reason why Syracuse rallied down the stretch to achieve bowl eligibility and ultimately win that bowl game. The team views Hunt as their leader and that has not changed this season even with those two incidents.

The punch especially was out of character and he took a lot of heat for that from the fan base and local media. He vowed to never let anything like that happen again, and given his history, it is not expected.

Hunt is a good kid and a strong leader. I wouldn’t expect to see much from him in terms of extracurricular activity on Saturday.


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