The theme was familiar for Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt when he dropped back to throw against a talented Clemson defense on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore scanned the field, looking for a crevice, a crease, a sliver of an opener to get the ball to one of his receivers.
But nothing was there. The Tigers secondary, with a reputation of being inconsistent in coverage coming in, blanked the Orange receivers throughout Saturday's contest. All in all, Syracuse mustered just 74-yards passing on 12 completions.
The few times Syracuse did complete a pass, many were quick strikes in the flat to try to get their better playmakers into space. But the Tigers were far too fast for that strategy to work. In fact, Prince-Tyson Gulley finished with three catches for negative 12 yards receiving in those very situations.
But that was to be expected coming into this matchup. Clemson has great speed all over the field. What was more concerning was what was going on down the field. Jarrod West, the de facto number one receiver on the Orange, continued his struggles this season by failing to haul in a single catch.
West was plagued by the same problem that is hurting the rest of the Orange receiving corps. They can't separate from opposing corners. Clemson played man coverage almost exclusively on Saturday, and that was a mismatch for this group. Chris Clark, who had been Syracuse's best receiver entering the game, was nowhere to be found. He also finished Saturday without a reception.
The Orange tried to get Kobena, Syracuse's resident speedster, open down the field, but he was blanketed every time. Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland were too fast, too skilled and too athletic for the Orange receivers. It served as notice that the receivers are the biggest weakness on the team.
Hunt did go through his progressions and was given adequate protection most of the night. The Orange offensive line held up surprisingly well against Vic Beasley and the Clemson pass rush. However, he found no openings in the passing game.
On Hunt's second interception, Clark was running an arrow route. Hunt threw the ball to a spot where Clark was supposed to get to on his pattern. However, when coming on his break to slant towards the middle of the field, he did not explode and finish the route. Instead, he hesitated. The Clemson defender took advantage by occupying that spot and picked off the pass. Clark did not help Hunt on that route which was par for the course against the Tigers.
The Syracuse receivers were dominated by the Clemson corners that jammed them frequently throughout Saturday's game. They were too strong and too quick for the receivers to break away. This threw off the timing of the routes and gave Hunt few options on where to go with the ball.
How can Syracuse improve this problem going forward? The good news is that the remaining teams on the schedule, save Florida State, are not nearly as talented as the opponent the Orange faced on Saturday. A possibility is utilizing some of their younger talent in the passing game. Alvin Cornelius, Ben Lewis or using Brisly Estime more could give the Orange a boost.
Using the tight end more is also an option. Beckett Wales was a solid part of last season's attack but has been non-existent in 2013. Josh Parris is a talented young player that has the ability to be a matchup problem for opponents. Kendall Moore has shown flashes early in the season.
Regardless of the solution, if the Syracuse offense is to get back on track, it is something that must be solved sooner rather then later.