After a shaky start to the 2013 campaign, Syracuse returns home to the comfortable confines of the Carrier Dome. Waiting for them in the home opener for the Orange will be FCS foe Wagner who is coming off a 2012 season that includes their first FCS playoff win in program history.
The Wagner Seahawks utilize a read option offensive system that relies on the running ability of their running backs and quarterback. They put a lot of pressure on the opposing defensive line by attacking the inside and outside in their ground game. Wagner utilizes multiple looks with the read option and try to confuse their opponent with fakes and counters.
Through the air, the Seahawks focus on short, quick passes rather than pushing the ball down the field. Then generally run the ball about two-thirds of the time, taking advantage of the skill set their players possess.
The starting quarterback for Wagner is junior Matt Misley who is in his first year as a starter. Misley is a run first, smart quarterback who runs the read option well. The thread of Misley hurting a defense with his feet keeps opposing defensive lines honest which allows him to hand off to his running backs in the read option and open up running lanes both inside and off tackle. He's coming off of a 98-yard, two rushing touchdown performance last week.
His arm strength is a bit of a weakness, as he is not a quarterback that you will slinging the ball down the field for big chunks of yardage. Look for the Seahawks to take advantage of his mobility by rolling him out frequently on passing plays, allowing him to focus on one half of the field. The ball should come out rather quickly in order to negate the Orange pass rush. He has decent accuracy as a passer, and struggles with his footwork at times.
Backing up Misley is redshirt freshman Chris Andrews who battled Misley for the starting job in training camp. He saw some action last week, and could come in for Misley should the starter struggle out of the gate.
Dominique Williams is the primary ball carrier for the Seahawks. He ranks fourth all-time in rushing yards for Wagner. He is a power runner who has deceptive quickness. Williams isn't afraid to pound it inside, and has the ability to get to the edge at times. He takes a majority of the carries at running back. Williams is the biggest weapon Wagner has offensively and can be a threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield as well.
Williams was All-American at the FCS level in 2012.
Wagner utilizes an h-back position similar to Syracuse. The primary threat here is shifty sophomore Ralph Greene. He's a smaller player who is used all over the formation. He will line up in the slot as a receiver or in the backfield as the Seahawks try to get him the ball in space to utilize his elusiveness and quick feet.
True freshman Matthais McKinnon gets into the rotation to spell both Williams and Greene. He is in between Williams and Greene as a runner, showing more power than Greene and more elusiveness than Williams. Cody Morgan will spell Greene at h-back as well, but is used primarily in the passing game.
Another backup h-back, Cody Morgan, will rotate in occasionally. Morgan is a former walk-on at Syracuse.
At tight end, the Seahawks use starter Bryant Watts and backup Ryan Owens as blockers in the run game. Watts has the skill set to be a weapon through the air, but isn't utilized in that fashion. At 6-foot-5, 255-pounds, Watts is a big body with the athleticism to pull and get to the second level.
Wagner has talent on the outside, despite its run-first offensive system. Anthony Carrington is a big body receiver at 6-foot-2 who is used as the main deep threat when the Seahawks try to stretch the field.
Tyree Watkins starts opposite Carrington and is a transfer from Duke. He has become the most targeted receiver as a reliable senior with good hands. Out of high school, Watkins was a 3-star prospect in the class of 2008 with offers from Iowa, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia, Stanford and Syracuse in addition to the Blue Devils. He has legit division one talent and the main threat in Wagner's passing attack. He has developed strong chemistry with starting quarterback Matt Misley.
Backing up Watkins and Carrington are Jeremiah Bell and Isaiah Gills. Neither get a lot of action, but Gills is a big target at 6-foot-4, 210-pounds that can be utilized in the redzone.
In the Trenches
Only one of the starting offensive linemen for Wagner hits 300-pounds on the scale. That is right tackle Brett Buzzard. He and Matt McBride, starting left tackle, form two tackles that pass the look test. Both are tall at 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-6 respectively.
Inside, left guard Nazir Barnett is undersized at 265-pounds. He struggles with big, powerful defensive linemen. Center David Fredrickson is an all conference performer, and right guard Kevin Messier rounds out the offensive line.
The group up front all make their living as run blockers which fits in perfectly with the Seahawks offensive system. They struggle with pass protection, however, which is why quarterback Matt Misley is rolled out as frequently in passing situations. This leaves Wagner vulnerable on third and long situations.
Wagner uses a base 3-4 defense with hybrid outside linebackers/defensive ends that are used as the primary pass rushers. They switch to a 4-3 in certain situations, with an outside linebacker putting his hand on the ground.
They don't normally look towards the blitz to generate pressure or get into the backfield. They rely on their front three plus an outside linebacker to generate a pass rush. In the defensive backfield, they play primarily man with their corners while the safeties focus on the run by playing in the box.
In the Trenches
The defensive line is the strength of the defensive unit. Yamir Ortiz and Fidel Okoye are returning starters up front, and Lawrence Williams is a returning contributor. Williams and Okoye are big bodies that their strength to cause disruption in the backfield.
Ortiz is more a traditional pass rusher. He's a senior leader on the defense who has been productive for the Seahawks for a few years. Daevonte Barnett will rotation in the middle with Okoye, and is another big body with strength. Davon Johnson is another senior up front who is part of the rotation and can play inside or outside.
The Back Seven
The linebackers are inexperienced and undersized. Wagner trots out two sophomores and a freshman among their four starting linebackers. On the outside, Jarrid Williams is listed at 220-pounds, and James Howell at a small 5-foot-8, 195-pounds. Inside, Rashon Pleasants is in the same mold at 210-pounds. Max Wassel, the other starting inside linebacker, is the biggest of the bunch at 235-pounds.
The group of linebackers doesn't possess strong athleticism or speed despite their lack of size. They can be exploited in the power running game and are not overly strong in coverage. They have struggled with missed tackles so far in 2013.
In the defensive backfield, the Seahawks have three new starters this season. They are prone to giving up the big play despite having solid athletes. Cornerback Jarrett Dieudonne is the lone returning starter and covers the opponent's top receiving threat. Deangelo James is a bit smaller and not as seasoned as Dieudonne. He moved from running back and had a pick six in his first game as a starter against Georgetown in week one. The corners are often left on islands in man coverage.
When teams spread Wagner out, their corner depth is limited. Backups Keith Foster and Eddie Davis are inexperienced and have struggled at times early in the 2013 season. Foster is a bigger body at 6-foot-3, but lacks ideal speed to stay with receivers down the field.
Safeties Nevon Williams and Blake Bascom are smaller safeties who look to creep into the box and help against the run. They are prone to the playaction fake, and don't possess great speed.
David Lopez is a fifth year senior kicker who is one of the best at the FCS level. He has a very strong leg, with a career long of 51-yards. Lopez is also very accurate regardless of distance.
Starting quarterback, Matt Misley, is also Wagner's punter. He averages a little less than 40-yards per punt. He does not have a big time leg, but is an adequate punter for the Seahawks who is consistent.
The kick returners for Wagner feature corner Deangelo James and junior Fred Locklary. Star running back Dominique James has also been back there on occasion. None have proven to be game breakers so far in 2013.
Similarly, the punt returner, James Howell, has not been a big threat in the return game for Wagner. He's a solid returner who the staff trusts with his sure hands.
The Seahawks coverage units have struggled early in 2013. They gave up an opening kickoff return for a touchdown last week, proving to be vulnerable to the big return.
Not surprisingly, Syracuse holds a lot of advantages against their FCS opponent. They will have plenty of mismatches they should be able to take exploit. Wagner is not a bad FCS team, but the Orange should be able to handle them in their home opener.
Expect to see a lot of read option from the Seahawks, even if the game gets out of hand. Wagner will take some chances to try to stay in it, especially on special teams. Still, expect an Orange team eager to prove its worth after the first two weeks of the season to come out ready to go.