The first half against Wake Forest made it six consecutive quarters without a point for Syracuse. In the second half, the Orange were able to move the ball much better. Offensive coordinator George McDonald believes the success was not a result of major adjustments made by the coaching staff.
"Better execution," McDonald said. "I think the guys just settled in. We ran the ball out of a couple more formations than we did in the first half. But I think the main thing was we settled in and got into a rhythm. Like we've been saying all season, when we get into a rhythm, we're usually pretty good in terms of moving the ball and keeping our tempo. We were able to do that pretty consistently, really the last drive of the first half and the first drive of the third quarter."
Quarterback Terrel Hunt has improved each week in ACC play. He has reduced the number of interceptions thrown by one after each conference game. McDonald believes the future for Hunt is very bright.
"When he protects the ball, we win," McDonald said. "When we don't turn the ball over, I think we win a lot of the games that we've been in. I've said the whole time, he's a first year quarterback starting in the ACC. He's always going to take his bumps. I'm excited about the future. I'm excited to see him next year and I'm excited to see him the year after. Right now, we're a team. We try to figure out a way to win. Every Saturday it's going to be different. Some games he may have to throw it a little more. Some days we may have to block six field goals. Whatever it takes to get the W, that's all that really matters right now."
Hunt also has more freedom at the line of scrimmage than fans may realize.
"We have run-pass checks on every play," McDonald said. "So it's kind of wherever the defense is overloaded, he just tries to go where they're not. That's kind of based on every play being a little bit different."
True freshman Brisly Estime had a career day on Saturday and was a focal point of the game plan. While his involvement will be somewhat dictated by the opponent, McDonald says Estime has earned his spot on the field.
"It's week to week," McDonald said. "He's earned the right to play. He'll play more, kind of like what he did Saturday. Usually when the ball's snapped, it's his vision, his eyes on where the ball goes. But the only thing Brisly has done is he's earned the right to be on the field more consistently just based on what he's done in practice and what he's done in the games. He did a really nice job Saturday. He made some of his mistakes, but he also made a lot of good plays. The things that you don't see is that he actually blocked really well for his size. He doesn't back down to anyone. That's what's really impressive about him, are the things you don't see on the stat sheet."
One of the main reasons for lining up Estime more often is to get as many playmakers on the field at once as possible. McDonald believes that puts a lot of pressure on the opposing defense.
"The thing we're trying to do is make the defense cover all five of the guys on the field," McDonald said. "So if they focus on Brisly, and we have Chris Clark or Ashton (Broyld) on the other side, you can't cover everybody or you have to balance out the defense. So we're just trying to spread out the playmakers to allow our guys to get the ball in space."
Someone who has been the odd man out in that situation is Jeremiah Kobena.
"You earn everything you get here," McDonald said. "It's a lesson in life. You come to work, you get paid. You don't come to work, you don't get paid. That's the biggest thing that we teach our guys is that you earn the right to play. Not that he hasn't, but when you've got to compete and you're not competing at a level that's going to get you on the field, then you've got to look in the mirror and you kind of have to say ‘what do I have to do to get better.'
"It's a combination. Brisly's stepped up, Ashton's stepped up, Jarrod's stepped up. When guys step up I try to reward them by getting them on the field and getting the ball in their hands. He's (Kobena) working hard, but sometimes that's status quo and you have to go above and beyond somebody else."
Another wrinkle on Saturday was moving Ashton Broyld to the outside. It's something that could pay dividends for the Orange down the road as they look to balance touches between Broyld and Estime.
"For me, I always look at targets," McDonald said. "Sometimes we have to target better and some things Ashton has to do better. Last week was the first week Ashton played on the perimeter. He kind of went through a couple growing pains just being the first time as a perimeter receiver as opposed to being a slot receiver. But he did some nice things. He blocked really well. I just think that is going to be repetition and getting him comfortable running different routes."
Looking ahead to Maryland, McDonald says they are an impressive group that will force Syracuse to execute their game plan well in order to earn a road victory.
"They look a good team coming off the bus," McDonald said. "They're a challenging team. The one thing about being in the ACC, everybody has good players. Everybody plays sound defense. They thing for us is to find what is the key going to be for that game. Like last week, we came out and figured running was going to be the key with different formations. Everybody in the ACC has good defenses. They have talented guys. The biggest challenge for us is to figure out the game plan and the things we can do to maximize the talent we have to make sure we can come out with the W."