The 2014 season did not go as planned for the Syracuse football Orange. A 3-9, injury riddled season that disappointed fans, the players and the coaching staff. But a new year is on the horizon, and Syracuse is looking to bounce back to show that 2014 was the fluke, not the 2013 Texas Bowl championship campaign.
Was there any team in college football that had more injury issues than the Orange? Syracuse was forced to play four quarterbacks, 10 offensive linemen, were without their top two returning receiving threats for most of the season, and were forced to play their best defensive end at defensive tackle.
The goal is for 2015 to be a much healthier season. This is football, however, and injuries can and will happen. The key is to minimize them and their impact.
There are a few critical players that have to avoid injury. Quarterback Terrel Hunt, wide receiver Steve Ishmael, h-back Ervin Philips, defensive end Ron Thompson and linebacker Zaire Franklin. These players are the backbone for the season and give the Orange something they cannot replace.
Hunt is the leader of the offense and the clear best quarterback at this point. He is the best option to help them win now and get the most production out of the offense. A seasoned veteran, Hunt is looking to wrap up his career on a positive note.
Ishmael is the only bonafide number one wide receiver on the roster. He has excellent hands, runs crisp routes, has good speed and a big frame.
Philips is a dynamic playmaker that can catch, run, is elusive in the open field and has a knack for making plays. While others could fill in at the h-back position, he might be the most explosive player on the offense.
Thompson is the top pass rusher for the Orange. He could be poised for a breakout season, and pass rush off the edge will be important to help mask some of the questions within a young defensive unit.
Franklin is the defensive leader, a captain, and emerging star in the ACC. He is smart, loves to hit, has good instincts and understands the scheme and playbook. Franklin makes everyone around him better.
Youth Is Served
The Syracuse defense is replacing eight starters from a very strong unit in 2014. That is a tall task, and the Syracuse coaches know there will be some growing pains. Still, they may have more athleticism and raw talent on the 2015 version of Scott Shafer and Chuck Bullough’s defense.
Kayton Samuels and Chris Slayton are poised to become full-time contributors as defensive tackles. Parris Bennett has had a very strong camp and is ready to become the next great blitzing linebacker in this system. Rodney Williams and Antwan Cordy have emerged as safety.
There is a lot to like about the pieces, but you cannot teach experience. Expect this unit to get better as the season progresses and as the youngsters log valuable in-game minutes.
This defensive system works. It has ever since Scott Shafer arrived on The Hill. This is the year that will test it the most with a lot of inexperience all over the lineup.
Samuels, Slayton, Cordy, Williams, Bennett, Scissum, Steven Clark and others will all be seeing their first extensive, meaningful paying time. How they adjust will tell the tale of this unit.
A New Hope
The Syracuse offense, to be frank, was abysmal in 2014. Enter Tim Lester’s new offense, and there is hope to turn things around on that side of the ball.
Much has been debated about the use of the h-back, which could become a big weapon for the Orange. Ervin Philips will take on the primary role at that position. Expect to see him carry the ball on jet sweeps and reverses while also becoming a threat through the air.
Screens, quick slants, quick outs and routes like that are likely to be a part of his arsenal in order to get the ball to him in space.
A downhill rushing attack will also be a staple of the Lester offense. Two tight-end sets with the option of running to either side of the field, inside or out, will help keep the defense on their toes. The downhill, quick hitting ground attack will also play to Syracuse’s advantage.
The goal is to get the backs to the second level of the defense much faster, which will help gain chunk yardage.
As the ground attack picks up steam, it takes the pressure off of the offensive line, Terrel Hunt and the rest of the passing game. Playaction is expected to be prominently featured in this offense to help counter a defense focused on the run after some success on the ground.
Ultimately, know one really knows how this will all play out. There are sure to be many wrinkles and surprises that Lester throws at teams week after week. But there is a lot of optimism about the offense heading into 2015.
A Fast Start
The key to a successful 2015 season for the Orange is a fast start. Four of the first games are very winnable, and Syracuse may actually be the more talented bunch.
FCS Rhode Island should be a win, as should week three against a Central Michigan team that Syracuse blew out last season. The week two game against Wake Forest is the swing game. A win there can start to gain some momentum.
Syracuse beat Wake Forest 30-7 on the road last season. That was with a true freshman quarterback and injuries all over the roster. This year, Syracuse should be much healthier. Make no mistake, this is the most important game of the young season.
That gives Syracuse the chance to start 3-0 entering the LSU game. Even if you chalk that game up as a loss, Syracuse travels to South Florida to play a Bulls squad that struggled in a subpar conference compared to the ACC. Road games are always tough, but Syracuse has every reason to be confident heading into that one.
A potential 4-1 start is exactly what this team and this program needs to help erase the memory of 2014.