Syracuse Football Roundtable: Previewing Pittsburgh

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! This week, TNIAAM's esteemed panel sweeps the Florida State loss under a rug and then refocuses on Pittsburgh.

Don't worry, we're going to try to avoid talking about the Florida State game too much. We've got more things to do -- like beat Pitt and get back to the postseason. Yeah. Let's focus on that.

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...

When knew FSU would beat SU, but what was the most unsettling part of that game?

The Invisible Swordsman: That it took FSU defensive back P.J. Williams so long to come up with the word "chicken"? I don't know. My loins were girded well before kickoff, so I really don't feel particularly unsettled in the game's aftermath, with the exception of the injury to Julian Wigham which for obvious reasons is a concern on a humanitarian level.

Sean Farrell: For me, it was the injuries. We knew that Syracuse wasn’t going to win. The important thing was to play a clean game and come into the final two weeks at 100 percent. That didn’t happen. Julian Whigham may not play again this year, due to a lung contusion. Prince-Tyson Gulley re-injured his ankle. Rob Trudo was also shaken up a bit. In a sport like football, you can’t really play a more conservative game to prevent injuries. But you would hope that if players are going down, it’s worth it. And with a 59-3 loss, that’s just not the case. What happened on Saturday was just adding injury to insult.

Matt McClusky: The injuries! I almost wrote a post on this because I was so wrong about this game. I wasn't wrong about the score, but about the approach to the game itself. I advised any and all Orange fans to ignore this week and concentrate on the final two games of the season, almost like the Florida State game never happened. But I never thought Syracuse would lose key players - Julian Whigham and Prince Tyson-Gulley to name two - for potentially multiple games. The scoreboard will be forgotten, the lingering injuries won't be.

Dan Lyons: Honestly, the Whigham injury bothered me more than anything that happened on the field. I was not really surprised at all by how the rest of the game played out. Florida State is just on another level this year, and that game was far more about how good they are than anything Syracuse did. The 'Noles have been the most impressive team in the nation this season.

Sean Keeley: That, once again, Syracuse looked absolutely overwhelmed and unable to compete on national television. The downside to having played so many nationally-ranked or relevant teams in the last couple years is that national audiences have gotten used to watching us get our butts kicked.

John Cassillo: How swiftly it all came about. Before the end of the first quarter, Syracuse was practically run off the field. Even in our other two bad losses -- Clemson and Georgia Tech -- things were never that bad. I thought I understood just how talented Florida State was prior to Saturday, but apparently not. Oh, and injuries. Those always suck, but it's worse when you're getting blown out already.

Thoughts on 'Noles players playing Hangman on the sidelines in the fourth quarter?

TIS: They have inadvertently created a meme that we at TNIAAM will gleefully use in the future...probably at Clemson's expense.

SF: I don’t really have too much of a problem with it. If the game was close, I guess you could argue that they were disrespecting Syracuse by not believing the Orange could get back into it. But with Florida State up 59, it’s a moot point. If anyone is annoyed, it should be the Seminole coaches. You want your players to focus on the actual game, especially when the teammates on the field are the 3rd and 4th stringers.

MM: It was a little alarming, like, Whoa, Florida State really didn't give much of a thought to SU. But then I realize, the game was over with in the first five minutes of action and this is what FSU does: pummel opponents. The Orange couldn't do anything to stop the 'Noles, that includes playing Hangman during the actual game.

DL: I don't really care. I'm sure some people take it as a big slight or whatever, but anyone who's played at any level will tell you it can get a bit boring out there if the game is over and you're not going to get on the field. I remember goofing around on the sideline a lot back as when I didn't play in high school, it's really not a big deal.

SK: Totally cool with it. If it had been Syracuse players doing it while blowing out a team by 50+ points, we'd have loved it. And keeping in mind that this is, like, the sixth time game this season that's been an absolute blowout, you've gotta kill time on the sidelines somehow.

JC: More than fine with it. Tweeted it out pretty much immediately, actually. It was near the end of the game and the starters were rightfully bored. The moment made for a hilarious photo, and it's a reminder to teams (SU included) that if you don't want things like that to happen, then keep the game closer.

Are the blue helmets gone for the season? Haven't seen them in awhile...

TIS: I hear Illinois has been borrowing them over the last several games, and like SU, they too have been getting killed in them. Let's just leave them in Champaign and try something else next year.

SF: They very well could be gone for the season. We haven’t seen them since Oct. 19, which is now an entire month ago. Sometimes, when you break out a different uniform or a gimmicky look, how much it stays is based on how well you play. On a winning streak? Don’t shave. Not hitting recently? Try wearing high socks. The last time we saw the helmets, Syracuse lost 56-0 to Georgia Tech. Before that, the Orange lost 49-14 to Clemson. If the blue helmets don’t come back, I’m not going to be surprised, or even disappointed for that matter.

MM: Honestly, when the game started on Saturday, my first comment out loud was, "Whoa, Syracuse looks sharp!" I didn't mean in offensive or defensive execution, I meant uniform crispness. For some reason, everything -- helmet, pants, gloves, shoes -- kind of popped. So, no, I'm not really missing the blue-orange-ish helmets.

DL: Probably not. The team is just mixing stuff up, I bet we'll see them in at least one of the last two games.

SK: Begs the question, what's the point of them? If they're not our actual new helmets, what is the goal of having had fancy new helmets for three games and then putting them away? It's not like you're selling football helmets the way you sell jerseys. Honestly, it made me re-appreciate the Block S helmet so I'm glad to keep seeing it.

JC: I'm with Sean. If they're mothballed already, then why bother tossing them out there to begin with? I've been a fan of the current look since its inception -- it just has a "modern classic" look that harkens back to the best years of Syracuse football while still looking current. Let's hope we stop with the gimmicky jersey nonsense and just continue with what we've got.

Out of Syracuse's last two games, does Pittsburgh or Boston College scare you more?

TIS: Pittsburgh scares me more largely due to their stronger passing game, led by receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd. I think Boston College is a better team overall, but their strengths play more to our strengths. Either way, both teams will present a strong challenge to our team, and these games are going to be Northern football at its best (bare knuckle wars of attrition). Hide the kids.

SF: Without question – Boston College. The Eagles come in flying high. They have won their last three games. BC has a running back – who wears No. 44 – who has destroyed defenses all year. Quarterback Chase Rettig isn’t flashy, but he doesn’t turn the ball over either. Winning the turnover battle has been extremely pivotal for the Orange this year. Syracuse has won all three games it did not commit a turnover. The Orange had four games of 3+ turnovers and lost all four of them. Besides, Boston College has challenged the ACC’s two best teams. The Eagles lost to Florida State by 14 and Clemson by only ten. If Syracuse needs to win this game for bowl eligibility, the team will be in trouble.

MM: Boston College! The Eagles have won three straight games and they have one of the most under appreciated running backs in the game in Andre Williams. The senior is pounding defenders, rushing for an ACC record 339 yards last weekend. Sure, it was N.C. State, but good lawd! B.C. is rising, Pitt is mostly hovering. Take care of business this weekend because next weekend may not go well.

DL: BC definitely scares me more. Andre Williams is having a crazy season for the Eagles, and Pitt has been very inconsistent. I'll be pretty nervous heading into Thanksgiving weekend if Cuse can't pull out this weekend's game.

SK: Boston College. That RB of theirs is a beast and they're much more likely to beat us head-to-head. Pitt's more of a flawed squad whereas BC is an up-and-coming program. Plus, I'm thinking Steve Addazio is looking forward to playing us with guys on the same level.

JC: It's Boston College, and it likely would be no matter their record. Steve Addazio understands the rivalry these programs once had, and their guys will know bragging rights are on the line. The last thing we'd need on top of that is to give BC a chance to keep us out of the postseason too. Beating Pitt seems more manageable, and at this point, kind of essential.

What do the Orange have to do in order to beat Pitt?

TIS: We HAVE to get some production from Terrel Hunt to allow our running game to establish itself and keep Pitt's offense off the field. I no longer care if he gets it on the ground or the air, but Terrel's effectiveness is going to determine whether we play a game in December. We won't bully Pitt or BC for wins like we have with NC State, Wake and Maryland. It will take more than that, and as such, Hunt is the key.

SF: Run the ball effectively. In the Panthers loss last week, they allowed UNC’s top two rushers to average over five yards per carry. The Tar Heel quarterback only threw 173 yards. (UNC did get two punt return TDs though, which helps) At this point in the season, we know what kind of team Syracuse is, what works and what doesn’t work. George Morris II and Devante McFarlane showed a lot of potential last week so get them involved early and often, even if PTG is active.

MM: Just do what Syracuse does: pound and ground. As of this writing I'm not sure the status of Tyson-Gulley, but hello, Jerome Smith (along with the younger backs, who actually looked good in garbage time against Florida State). Terrel Hunt is still struggling to throw the ball, but SU has proven it can win games by riding the backs and short, in the flats, passing. Keep Pitt from the endzone and win ugly. That's this team's calling card for better or worse.

DL: Give Tom Savage bad 2009 flashbacks. Syracuse did about as well as anyone has this year in getting after Jameis this weekend - one of the few decent takeaways from the Florida State game. Savage has gotten sacked a ton this year, as he is wont to do. I expect the Bullough's defense to be very aggressive this weekend.

SK: Remember what they did against Wake Forest and Maryland and do that. Is that possible? Can we call that a game plan?

JC: Run the ball. Over and over again. And use that to set up the pass. We've done this before (see the Maryland game, in particular) and replicating that strategy is essential to Syracuse winning this game. It also wouldn't hurt to get after Tom Savage. If they can force some ill-advised throws, it'll take pressure off the banged-up Orange secondary -- something that's sorely needed.

What will be the key to the Panthers defeating Syracuse?

TIS: I would put eight players in the box, and cheat the strong safety to stop SU's running game and force George McDonald to try to win in the air. On the offensive side of the ball, Pitt's receivers are good enough that they can afford to keep the running backs or a tight end home to protect against SU's relentless blitz schemes. If Pitt can keep Tom Savage upright, we may be in big trouble.

SF: Going back to an earlier answer…it’s the turnovers, stupid! Terrel Hunt can’t play another careless game. Syracuse’s offense just isn’t equipped to score big points needed to overcome lost fumbles or a pick six. In Pitt’s upset of Notre Dame, a 4th quarter interception of Tommy Rees – the second of the game – set up the game-winning touchdown. If Hunt and the rest of the offense can avoid doing that, they’re going bowling.

MM: Take advantage of Syracuse's now depleted secondary and force the Orange offense into third down and long situations. Really, it's as obvious formula as Syracuse's plan to victory. The Orange needs to keep games low scoring, Orange opponents, be it Pitt or Boston College, need to force the action. This is very winnable, for both teams.

DL: They're definitely going to look for Devin Street. He torched SU last year in the narrow Orange win at the Dome, and this weekend he will go against a weakened Syracuse secondary that won't have Keon Lyn or Whigham. That's the biggest mismatch for Pitt on paper right now.

SK: Shut down our run game and force Terrel Hunt to beat them. I like Terrel. I think he's got a future at QB. But I don't know if he's got it right now. And I sure don't trust him to win a football game for us on his own.

JC: If Tom Savage can beat Orange blitzes with quick, accurate passes, that should certainly help out Pitt. Tyler Boyd and Devin Street are both excellent receivers, though they excel more when Savage has some time to find them in open space. Obviously, shutting down Syracuse's run game is a great way to beat this team, since Terrel Hunt's arm certainly can't do it.

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