This is the last we'll speak of the Georgia Tech game, I swear. It's just that we do these every week, and well, that's the most recent result. Hard to just remove it from the bigger picture right away. Perhaps this is our way of coping? Dealing with various stages of disappointment? We try to be more optimistic toward the end here. Actually... nope. Not even close.
As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the TNIAAM football wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-field, the ACC and more. Join us below...
Where do you put the Georgia Tech loss in the list of "worst SU defeats you've witnessed?"
The Invisible Swordsman: It was the worst loss I have ever witnessed. We've been absolutely crushed before (1999 @ Virginia Tech, 2001 @ Miami, and 1983 @ Nebraska come to mind), but those were elite teams. GROB's 2005-2008 crimes against humanity included some real dogs, but ever have I seen SU be completely dominated and unable to do anything against a team that I will call just above average to simply make myself feel better!
Matt McClusky: It's forever burned together with the Virginia Tech game in 1999, the Miami game in 2001, and, the worst performance I have ever seen in person, the West Virginia game in 1993. In all those games Syracuse failed to show up in all facets of the game, and it's practically impossible to separate them individually. So, I just collect them all and merge them into my brain where I try never to think of them ever again.
Jared Smith: I did witness a pretty bad beating by Clemson a few weeks back. I understand Syracuse tried its best to get back into the game, but where they every really in it? However, if we're trying to remember thrashings the one I can recall the most is a game against Pitt a few years back when it was like 35-7 early in the second half and it was pretty embarrassing.
John Cassillo: It's definitely up there, though I'll shorten my overall list to games occurring since my freshman year (2006), since I wasn't nearly as emotionally invested in this team's week-to-week highs and lows before I got to SU. I don't include this year's Clemson game, since that was supposed to happen. I also won't include the Akron game from 2008, since that was close for awhile. So it's between this and the Penn State game in 2008. I'd argue the Penn State loss was supposed to happen anyway though, which at least makes me feel better in hindsight. The loss this past Saturday was like watching a high school team line up against an FBS opponent. Just so unbelievably awful.
Was there anything you liked about Syracuse's play in the game?
TIS: At least we didn't break out those train-wreck two-toned helmets and match them up with our traditional orange pants... oh... right.
MM: No. Sure there were a few some-what-decent individual showings on Saturday, but none of that matters when a team is drilled 56 - 0. Especially against a mediocre opponent.
JS: Two of SU's first three drives weren't too bad until a few costly penalties and an interception derailed them. I am still wondering how the game would have changed if Syracuse was able to get some early points on the board and didn't need to completely change its offensive game plan. However, I doubt that DC Chuck Bullough would have changed his game plan to stop GT, so that probably negates a lot of things.
JC: Nope. Just six plays in Georgia Tech territory. Zero ability to stop the triple-option. No hope starting from the halfway point in the second. That's a team so outmatched that you simply want to burn the gameplan and never look back.
Who do we fault most of all for an embarrassing performance like that?
TIS: The SU coaching staff. Chuck Bullough deserves most of the blame for installing a 3-4 defense, but combine that with our inability to move the football on offense and the penalties (!), there's plenty of blame to go around.
MM: The entire coaching staff, specially Scott Shafer. Chuck Bullough's defense looked like it had no clue Georgia Tech runs the triple-option, George McDonald's offensive play-calling is uninspiring, and Shafer, at times, looks lost. Actually, all of them must have been lost on Saturday, that's the only logical explanation, which is why I put the most blame on the head coach. Ultimately, it's Shafer's job to make sure each side of the ball is ready for a game. Now, that's not an indictment on Shafer as a head coach. By no means do I think he is truly over his head, but I do think he is taking some licks as he gets used to the gig. Which will hopefully be a good thing later on in his career, but we all have to get the learning lumps first.
JS: Everyone, however, if we're going to try and fix the biggest problem it is the defense. Look, the offense is going to have its ups and downs with Hunt throwing to a bevy of average WRs and a new offensive coordinator. But, this defense hasn't been very good this season and there's no excuse for it considering the DL is better than we originally thought it would be and the linebacking corps is pretty talented. Understanding the secondary has been pretty bad, but there's some talent back there with Brandon Reddish, Wayne Morgan and Durell Eskridge. How this defense is so bad after we promoted last year's DC to head coach is a big mystery to me.
JC: Hi, coaching staff! The decision to go with a 3-4 was awful, especially down a starting linebacker. The gameplan on offense seemed balanced at first, until you look at how quickly we went pass-happy. Of course, the kids on the field are ultimately going to determine whether a gameplan works, but it's the coaching staff's job to figure that out. If not beforehand (which happens), then during the game, at least. After spending the first half getting lapped by Tech, they failed to make a single adjustment and the rout just continued.
Should we start getting concerned about Terrel Hunt now?
TIS: No, if only because he's still the best we have at the position, and I can't worry about him when there are other things that are bigger issues for this team. We've seen Amazing Terrel and Bad Terrel... there's a mid-point in there somewhere and I hold out hope we'll see it over the final third of the season.
MM: Absolutely we should be concerned about Hunt's performance. He has been terrible the last three outings, no question about it. In fact, if Hunt was originally named the starter for the season, the last few weeks would have most certainly led to his benching. And the only reason he isn't going to be benched is because Drew Allen has already had a shot and didn't earn the position. I still have no doubt Hunt can develop into a quality quarterback, but at some point soon he will have to start making some plays. (I do want to point out that both Hunt's and Allen's struggles are also due to the lack of production from the wideouts. So while I am stating the obvious issues with Hunt, his lagging play isn't totally on him. Really, a quarterback to succeed this season for Syracuse would have to be dynamic and experienced, something not on this roster.)
JS: I am not really concerned with Hunt, though, he did hint after Saturday's loss he is losing some confidence and if that is the case I am a bit worried. I think Syracuse offense will win with Hunt if it stay within its game plan which is to have him use his legs to make big plays, complete a few passes to open up the run and let Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley make the big plays. As I said earlier, if you go back and check SU's first few drives of the games they weren't awful, two of them both moved the ball inside GT territory. It was the dumb penalties by the offensive linemen that forced the Orange out of FG range or disrupted the rhythm. This offense isn't going to put up huge numbers and I am fine with that because this style can win games. But, he will not win if the defense is getting smoked and the Orange are committing back-breaking penalties.
JC: Yes, I am concerned -- even more so because we've hitched our wagon to Hunt at this point, so it's not like there's another option either. Every week, his passing seems to get worse, his confidence goes down and the interceptions go up. When we're fully committed to running the ball, sure, it seems like a less dire situation. But you can't pass the ball as inefficiently as we have these past few weeks and expect to win many games. He's not "in trouble," though the past three games have certainly reminded us he's a work in progress and we might need to scale back expectations. Agree with Jared that the loss of confidence is disconcerting.
I want to talk about something else... Give me your thoughts on FSU's win over Clemson
TIS: Please allow me to assume the fetal position as I answer this... Simply awesome. Like Jon Bones Jones awesome. There are a few games in each season when an elite team simply puts all the factors together (talent, game plan, emotion, execution) and becomes some unstoppable force. Clemson is an extremely, extremely good team, and they had no answer for FSU on either side of the football.
MM: During the game? "Holy ----!" Days removed from the game? "Holy ----!" Florida State appears to be back and Jameis Winston appears to be the most dynamic player in college football. This is interesting on two fronts, 1) FSU could be back to the national level it once dominated at it, which would be great for the ACC (at least reputation wise) and 2) Poor Syracuse, having to travel to Tallahassee. Poor, poor, Syracuse.
JS: Man, what a disappointment that was. With all the hype and support from Tiger fans, Dabo and company really laid an egg huh? For a program that was looking to contend for a national crown -- and it looked like they could do it -- that was embarrassing (You could argue it was worse than what Syracuse went through on Saturday.) All-in-all, we know that FSU is clicking with everything and has a solid shot, if they can defeat Miami, of playing for a National Championship. This is great for the conference, but no so good for the Orange who play them in a few weeks -- that's going to get ugly.
JC: Florida State's going to kill us, aren't they? Like, actually kill us. Saturday night was the Seminoles' return to the national stage -- a coming out party for a new era of dominance for the program. That means good times for the ACC and very bad times for Syracuse as a member of the Atlantic Division. I'd wish we were in the Coastal, but then we'd have to face Georgia Tech every year... Back to FSU, though: They're a true National Championship contender with an improving defense and a dynamic offense. Jameis Winston is just beginning his reign as college football's most likeable, charismatic superstar and his confidence alone wins football games.
Is Syracuse scheduling itself into mediocrity? (Note: Question asked and answered prior to yesterday's announcement on 2014 opponents)
TIS: Not in the medium to long term. Syracuse's current scheduling is a victim of our placement in the Big East. We HAD to put strong BCS teams on the schedule to provide visibility for the program, offer a matchup that was something a bit more exciting than USF in November, and give players and recruits an opporutnity to play strong opposition. We're going to have to deal with the aftereffects of this scheduling strategy for a few more years, but I think over time, we'll probably lighten the non-conference load a bit from one elite BCS, two strong BC, one FCS to one elite/strong BCS, one FCS, and a MAC-like opponent to round out the non-con.
MM: This is one of those egg/chicken debates around here. Daryl Gross, PHD, loves himself the spotlight, even if his teams are getting slaughtered when the attention is focused on Syracuse. As far as this season's scheduling, I don't think things were too far over this team's head. Penn State and Northwestern are both competitive but obviously very flawed, and the Georgia Techs, Clemsons, and Florida States are all apart of the ACC world Syracuse now lives. There is no avoiding them, even if the Yellow Jackets are a team SU can avoid for a number of years now. Every team plays one or two fairly notable non-conference games, with next year's lineup including Maryland and Notre Dame, and eventually Syracuse will have to win a few if it wants to earn relevancy on a bigger scale.
JS: I don't think so. Lets stop and think for a second: What is the big difference between 6-6 and 7-5? Not a lot. As long as Syracuse can get to that magic number of six each season and play in the national spotlight a few times, win a few of those games, it is going to help out in the long run. I really believe last year's run was helped by playing some of those tough games, including visiting Missouri. I like that Syracuse isn't avoiding anyone and isn't scheduling a handful of terrible teams just so it can get to a bowl game.
JC: We had a discussion about this in the comments yesterday (see link above), but I'd honestly like to see Syracuse quit it with the tough schedules. If we want this program to improve, perceptions-wise, we can only do that with wins and bowl trips. Similar programs like Pitt, Maryland and even (gulp) SUNJ, have managed to make themselves appear better than they are with subpar non-conference slates in recent years. I don't understand why SU is actively trying to stop itself from winning more than five or six games in a given season.