There were plenty of things to be positive about despite Syracuse losing to Florida State on Saturday. But perhaps the most important was the play of two key freshmen; quarterback A.J. Long and wide receiver Steve Ishmael.
Terrel Hunt suffered a fractured fibular against Louisville, and all week the Orange coaches stated that two quarterbacks would play against the Seminoles. Austin Wilson got the start, but Long took over on the second drive and showed right away that the stage was not too big.
”A.J. was just the way I thought he would be,” head coach Scott Shafer said. “He really loves to play the game. He’s really a fun kid to be around out there. There’s never a sense that he’s tightening up or anything so I was really encourages by the way he played.
”Did he make mistakes? Yes. But all in all, the opportunity to be baptized by fire against the number one team in the country, I thought the kid did a pretty damn good job.”
Long has a rare blend of poise and confidence for a true freshman. He made the right reads a vast majority of the time, and save for a bad throw in the third quarter that resulted in an interception, was accurate with the football.
”He missed a couple throws,” offensive coordinator Tim Lester said. “One in the red zone on a flat route which he’s eating himself up over. He made some good reads, good decisions. He did well in the running game.”
Long finished 16-27 passing for 167-yards and two touchdowns. His top threat was fellow freshman Steve Ishmael. The two had a clear chemistry on the field, which led to two scores. They also connected on another long pass in the first half.
On the first pass, Long had to scramble which forced Ishmael to run up the sideline to try to get open. Long found him inside the 10-yard line on a perfectly thrown pass.
Ishmael ran a fly route down the sideline on the first touchdown, and Long hit him in the end zone for a 22-yard strike. The ball was perfectly placed out in front of Ishmael where only he could make a play on the ball.
”You put that ball within a two-three feet radius of that man, he is going to catch it,” Long said of Ishmael. “Doesn’t matter if it’s one-handed, two-handed, he could catch it with his eyes closed. He is just a great receiver and I’m blessed to be able to throw the ball to him.”
On the second touchdown, Ishmael ran a skinny post and Long hit him perfectly in stride. Because Florida State was in cover two, the middle of the field was wide open. Ishmael ran after the catch and powered into the end zone.
”We’re starting to see some things out of him that we saw out of him that we saw from him in the recruiting process,” Shafer said. “I remember when coach McDonald came to me and told me about him. I was really excited and then we turned on the tape. It’s one of those things, the things we saw on tape we’re starting to see every week.”
Ishmael called the connection between the two freshmen “amazing.” The talented wide receiver led Syracuse in receiving yards against the nation’s top team. Long led Syracuse in passing yards.
With receivers Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime battling injuries, and Terrel Hunt out for the foreseeable future with a fractured fibula as well as Austin Wilson leaving the game with an upper body injury, this connection could be paramount for Syracuse going forward. Not only for this season, but beyond as well.
It was clear that Syracuse does in fact have some dynamic offensive players. They just happen to be their youngest. If anything can be taken away from a loss, it was that the Syracuse offense gained some identity and found some playmakers.