Syracuse football kicks off their 2015 season with a Friday night affair against FCS Rhode Island inside the Carrier Dome. Both teams had subpar years in 2014 and are looking for a bounce back campaign. While Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer is entering year three, Rhode Island head coach Jim Fleming will be coaching just his second year for the Rams.
CuseNation.com spoke with coach Fleming to discuss his team, the matchup with the Orange and more. Here is our one-on-one with Rhode Island football’s head coach.
Q: How did your newly named starting quarterback earn the job and what does he bring to the table?
”The guy we named was a kid named Paul Mroz,” Fleming said. “He got here mid-summer and he’s been doing a nice job grasping the offense. It was a really wide open competition all the way through camp. It’s been that way ever since he got here. We were working four quarterbacks during the early part of camp. After the first scrimmage, which was two weeks ago on Tuesday, we gave Paul a little more of the repetitions just to see if he was the guy we wanted to go with. At the conclusion of our last scrimmage last Tuesday, we went with Paul as the starter and James Caparell as the backup.
”We felt that was probably a pretty good one-two punch for us. Paul gives us a little bit more of is just a new flavor offensively. He’s got solid gamesmanship. He’s got decent presence there. Then he probably gives us a little bit more mobility at the position than we’ve had last year. That probably gave him the edge going into this first football game.”
Q: What have you seen from your skill position players and what do you expect from them this season?
”When you look at what we’ve got, we’ve got solid people across the board,” Fleming said. “But I don’t know if we’ve got a guy I would sit there and say is a feature guy for us. We’ve got some young receivers that we’re breaking in that will see time that have a little bit more athleticism, I think, than we’ve had at least last year. Nobody really jumps out as a go-to, pump the ball to guy. I think collectively, they’re a solid group.
”Our running backs are more the same. Harold Cooper (cousin of former Syracuse signee Corey Cooper) will be the starter. But you’ve got two or three other guys that are not an overwhelming drop-off. So we’ll have an opportunity to roll some guys through there. I think when you watch us, it’s not going to be identified as huge playmakers that you know the ball is going to. But I think collectively, we can move the ball around and hopefully move the chains.”
Q: What types of defensive schemes will you use against Syracuse?
”We’re multiple," Fleming said. "We’ve got opportunities with four man rush, three man rush, five man rush, six man rush. We’ve got a number of different packages. Obviously, every one of the defenses we use is sound in scheme and structure. I think we’ve got to pick and choose our spots to do a number of different things. We’ve got a solid, workmen like group. Similar to the offense. Nothing I would go and identify as any ‘oh my gosh’ players. I think there’s a lot of solid workers out there. We’ll have some young talent on the field there.”
Q: How has your team responded mentally after going through a tough season in 2014?
”As with any second year coaching staff, I think we’re much further ahead of the game," Fleming said. "The preparation for this year started at the conclusion of last year, which was a difficult pill to swallow as a coach. We were 0-11 going into that last game, but to win the last one is really the only way I could ever fathom going 1-11. Obviously you never wanting to do that again. But there was a great resilience and there was a great commitment throughout a very tough season with a number of close losses that showed the commitment to the process and their perseverance to continue to chop away at things and come away with a victory. We’ve taken that bright spot of last year and built on it. We’ve improved in all four different facets that I look at when preparing for a season.
”Your offseason conditioning and weight training is the first facet. Then you’ve the spring practice and then you’ve got summer training. Then you’ve got your training camp. I think we’ve improved in all four of those segments. So I think the attitude is very good. There’s a higher level of belief in our ability to be successful. Now we’ve got to go out and execute in order to get this thing going in the right direction.”
Q: What are your thoughts on Syracuse after scouting them, especially with the new offense you haven't seen yet?
”You’re trying to look into the crystal ball to know exactly what to prepare for," Fleming said. "You can identify some of the playmakers on the offensive side. You can look at whatever we can capture on tape from last year. Some of this stuff we understand is the history of (Tim) Lester in terms of where he came from. It’s a little bit of a nightmare that way going into a team where you’re playing up a division and not knowing what you’re going to get, is a little unnerving. It’ll just cause us to make sure our defensive principles and defensive concepts are in tact. We should be able to go ahead and get lined up and stop whatever they have coming at us.
”So we’ve been working on a number of different things. Looking at last year, you’ve got some pretty good-looking kids running around the field. I know they were disappointed in their performance last year as well and looking to get this thing headed in the right direction. I think they’ll be prepared, obviously prepared for us. Knowing that Villanova took them to a scare last year, so I don’t think that will be an edge. I think they know anybody can beat anybody, so it’ll be a tough out for us. But we’re looking forward to getting up there and finding out what we’re all about.”
Q: What does your program get out of playing a game like this?
”The number one thing it does for us is financial in terms of when you start looking at the numbers," Fleming said. "The difference between FBS funding and FCS funding is significant. So there’s a financial component to playing these games. You’re looking at the competitive issue, I was going through ribbing the New York guys. I said, ‘did Syracuse offer you?’ Of course no they didn’t. If Syracuse had offered them, they probably would’ve chosen to go there because it’s a good spot and it’s a BCS type thing and that’s what it seems most kids are interested in if they have the opportunity to take those types of opportunity. But I think there is a chip on the shoulder mentality going into these types of games.
”But at the end of the day, right now, whether it’s Syracuse or whether it’s Brown or anybody else that plays our level, it’s your first football game. What you really need to be locked and loaded on is execution of your schemes and control what you can control in those games, which is your execution. It’s a difficult opener when you come out in a situation like that. You’re dealing with 22, or something like that, scholarships than the other guys. That will wear on you, particularly late in the game. So we’ve just got to go out and play 60 minutes and battle and see how it all plays out.”