The injuries that Syracuse has suffered this season, primarily on the offensive side of the ball, have been well documented. That loss of players has hindered the offense’s ability to take a step in their development. To be consistently productive week in and week out.
The health of the Orange should improve with the week off, hopefully seeing some of the bruised and battered come back ready to contribute. Should that happen, the offense could be somewhat healthy for the first time since week one.
That should give some glimpse into the future as far as how the offense can improve from this year to next.
When Tim Lester was named offensive coordinator in the middle of the season, he took over running George McDonald’s offense. That has continued during his short time as the play caller. In previous weeks, coach Lester indicated that it is difficult to install a new offensive philosophy during a game week. He reserved those types of changes to bye weeks and the offseason.
Now that Syracuse has finally had a week off, we should see some of what Lester plans to do with the Orange offense.
This will not be the full Tim Lester offense. Not even close. But you should see some elements of it with some new looks that will give a window into the way he views that side of the ball. More two tight-end sets, power running and playaction are some of the things that could happen over the last two games.
With the injuries Syracuse has had this season, it has given many of the true and redshirt freshmen an opportunity to see significant playing time. A.J. Long, Austin Wilson, Mitch Kimble, Alex Hayes, Steve Ishmael, Jamal Custis, Ervin Philips, Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett are among those who have been on the field regularly.
Over the final two games, that should only continue. It provides a look into the recruiting efforts of the current regime, and some hope for the future. If Long is able to come back for the last two games, it gives him a chance to solidify the future of the quarterback position for the next few seasons and provides competition to Terrel Hunt.
Franklin is already listed as the starting middle linebacker this week even with Marqez Hodge returning from injury. He has been very good in his first year in Orange.
Hayes was very impressive in his debut and should be in line to get another start this week if Nick Robinson is unable to return. Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips have shown flashes of being offensive playmakers as well.
There are plenty of young guys to watch, which could shape the future of Syracuse football and the Scott Shafer era.
The saying goes, “even if you lose all of your games, just beat (insert rival name here).” Syracuse has its two biggest football rivals on the schedule over the next two weeks. Neither are as bitter as some are on the hardwood. Specifically Pittsburgh, who has become one of the Orange’s top adversaries in recent years.
The Panthers sit at 4-6 on the season and are fighting for bowl eligibility. Despite the rivalry being not as intense on the gridiron as it is on the hardwood, it is still a chance to ruin the season of a rival both in the conference and in recruiting.
Next up is Boston College, who Syracuse beat a year ago to clinch their bowl spot. The Eagles are led by former Syracuse assistant Steve Addazio and have surprised with a strong season thus far. Playing them in the regular season finale is a chance for Syracuse to end a disappointing season on a high note and prove to one of your rivals that you aren’t going anywhere.
Also at stake is the potential to move up in the standings in the Atlantic Division. The Eagles face Florida State this week, which will be a difficult task to pull off the upset. If they lose and Syracuse beats Pittsburgh, it sets up for the Orange to move ahead of B.C. in the standings with a win in the final game. Both would finish 3-5 in the conference with Syracuse having the head to head tie breaker.
N.C. State would also have to lose to North Carolina for that to happen, but that is very reasonable to have happen. Given the way this season has gone, finishing fourth in the Atlantic behind Florida State, Clemson and Louisville would actually be a silver lining.
Not only would this be good as far posterities sake, but it helps in recruiting. It allows the coaching staff to point to the injuries and the season being more of a fluke rather than pointing to a downward trend.