We thought the Florida State game was bad. We were wrong. it gets so much worse. When you outplay a team like Pitt in nearly every facet of the game, and then lose in that type of excruciating fashion, it's brutal. And now, we're 5-6, with one game left to gain bowl eligibility. "Hooray."
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...
We could blame a lot of people for the Pitt loss, but who most of all?
Sean Farrell: I blame Ryan Norton. I’ll preface it by saying I didn’t want to pick him. It’s just a process of elimination. The defense played a pretty solid game, even limiting the Panthers to 21 net rushing yards. Jerome Smith scored a touchdown and ran for over five yards per carry. Terrel Hunt, admittedly, didn’t have a great game. The inability to turn good field position into touchdowns really hurt. But Hunt played without two top receivers and even managed to avoid turning the ball over. So I find myself scapegoating Norton, fairly or unfairly. In a dome, a 41-yard field goal just isn’t too hard. And I won’t even get to the botched extra point.
Matt McClusky: I'll say I was disappointed with the play calling, again. Just YouTube Terrel Hunt's 42-yard touchdown heave to Alvin Cornelius. Who knew Hunt could be so accurate on such a deep ball? Who knew offensive coordinator George McDonald had even heard of the forward pass, save for the screen or bubble passes? Really, that 42-yarder should have been the green light for the offense, but sadly it wasn't.
Dan Lyons: I hate placing blame on any one person, especially when Syracuse has had so many different issues this season. McDonald's playcalling was not good down the stretch, so he's a candidate. Just looking at the score and opportunities, Ryan Norton and the kicking game was obviously an issue. If he converts a simple extra point we're going to overtime. At the same time, you can say that Shafer should've gone for two after the second touchdown, though it's hard to totally blame the loss on him. Honestly, to me the turning point of the game, at least on offense, was Sean Hickey's injury. After Hickey left the game the running game was not nearly as effective, and Michael Lasker really struggled in pass protection. I think his loss had a bigger impact than most of us realize.
John Cassillo: I can't blame McDonald for all of it, because the play-calling wasn't awful for most of the first three quarters. It's also tough to pin it all on Norton, though the missed field goal and blocked extra point certainly didn't help. But we're going with McDonald. With the game on the line, the play-calling was a joke. And considering that we had a great opportunity to win the game late in the fourth, that's what matters most -- to me, anyway.
Your thoughts on a) the would've-been fake field goal, and b) the final offensive play call?
SF: I like the fake FG. There’s not too much reason to believe Norton would have made the long field goal and the offense wasn’t very good on Saturday. When I think about the team plays that were called for that down – the fake and the actually pass play – I would certainly prefer the first. Speaking of the actual 4th down play, was the best option really a short slant when you needed eight yards? Who are we, the mid-2000s New York Jets?
MM: The fake field goal was brilliant. Think about it, not only did SU get the right personal on the field, it did so after killing the majority of the play-clock. I was sitting in my chair screaming at Scott Shafer: "Why are you trying to kick it from this far away? Why is this taking so long!" But it turns the dramatics of it all were designed to throw Pitt off the scent. If the ball was snapped a half-second earlier, Syracuse wins. Period. As for the final play, Syracuse looked like a defeated team even before the incomplete pass. The receiver, needing 8 yards, ran a 4 yard route. And for some reason Hunt threw said receiver the ball. It was, in all reality, a perfect synapses of the Orange's offensive woes this season.
DL: I'm usually not a fan of fakes, as I feel it's usually easier to pick up manageable yardage by executing a standard play, but eight yards is incredibly difficult for this team, so I didn't mind it, and if not for that incredibly late time-out call, the fake field goal would've gone for 15-20 yards, and maybe more, because there was no one remotely near the sideline for Pitt. On the other hand, the last play call was bad. It's mind-boggling how many times coaches call plays designed to be caught before the first down marker.
JC: The fake field goal was a fantastic call, and the timeout was a result of Paul Chryst (probably) realizing this. Under pressure, his team was ill-prepared for Josh Parris as a receiver, as evidenced by the SU tight end being wide open. The final offensive play call -- a three-yard slant on 4th and 8 -- was shit, for lack of a better word. That's what earns teams a loss in a winnable game, which is what happened on Saturday.
Have injuries finally taken too much of a toll on this Syracuse team?
SF: The injuries may not have cost Syracuse the game, but it had a huge impact, particularly at the wide receiver position. Sure, Jarrod West and Brisly Estime aren’t the best out there. But it is more that Syracuse can’t afford to lose them because of a lack of depth. Ashton Broyld and Chris Clark can fill in for them. he more important question is who steps in to play the three, four and five positions that do get some playing time? Guys like Quinta Funderburk, Alvin Cornelius, heck even Durell Eskridge, did their best, but the drops hurt a lot. Eventually, Syracuse just became a predicable one-dimensional offense that lacked key playmakers.
MM: Yes. YES. YES!!! I've heard the counter that this Syracuse team isn't nearly as thin as some of the Greg Robinson era outfits, and therefore can withstand missing key players. But good LAWD, some of the guys may have to start playing offense and defense on Saturday at this rate. Now, I don't think Syracuse is win-or-stay-home situation strictly due to the injury bug, but there is no question the Orange are missing Prince Tyson-Gulley and Julian Whigham and Keon Lyn and...well you get the picture.
DL: A few weeks ago before the Florida State game I mentioned to someone that Syracuse had been incredibly lucky with regards to the injury bug. Aside from Keon Lyn, we hadn't lost anyone huge in weeks. Then Florida State happened and broke half of our team, and now Sean Hickey is out and who knows what other names pop up on the injury report this week. I don't know that injuries are the difference maker against a solid Boston College team this week, but they definitely aren't helping Syracuse's case.
JC: If the injuries from the Florida State game weren't enough, Syracuse players seemed to be dropping like flies against Pittsburgh, too. Marquis Spruill missed a ton of time, Sean Hickey was taken out and may very well miss next week. We lost Ri'Shard Anderson... the list goes on, and now it's going to hurt us against Boston College (probably).
How much does Boston College's Andre Williams terrify you?
SF: Probably not as much as you. (Yeah, you) There are two reasons to this. The Syracuse run defense has played well this season. In fact, Syracuse, Ohio State and Wisconsin are the only FBS teams not to allow a 100-yard rusher all season. The Orange allow about 134 rush yards per game, good for 4th in the ACC. Second, even if Williams has a big game, it doesn’t automatically mean that BC is going to win. After all, the Eagles rely on Williams to have really huge numbers in order to win. Think of it this way – Williams averages 188 yards per game. So if Syracuse only allows him to get 140 yards, that would be good, right? It’s already happened twice when Williams has got that total and the Eagles have lost.
MM: Andre Williams is probably the best player most college football fans haven't seen play this season. Which is fair, because, well...Boston College is Boston College. Who wants to watch that? But Williams has over 2,000 yards on the ground this season, an ACC record, and he has four more quarters to add to that total! He's a dark horse candidate for the Heisman, and will likely be a high-ish draft pick in May's NFL draft. While the Orange has been good against the run this season, expect to see Williams, a lot of Williams, on Saturday.
DL: He's definitely scary, but I have faith that the Syracuse run defense will do as good a job against him as one can reasonably expect. I don't see him busting out for 200 yards, I think SU will hold him around 125-150. He'll get his, but it won't be a crazy performance like he's had the last few weeks. Syracuse ineptitude on offense scares me more than Williams and BC do.
JC: Sure, Andre Williams does great work between the tackles, which plays right into SU's strength. But if he stretches the field a bit and goes outside? Now the Orange are in trouble. He could also set up a long-dormant Eagles passing game, should Syracuse decide to stack eight in the box against Williams. He's not impossible to stop, but will certainly be a challenge.
What does Syracuse have to do in order to beat BC and become bowl-eligible?
SF: First off, the Orange needs a competent passing game. Hunt played a little better last week, so maybe he can build some momentum off of that. Like I mentioned earlier, I thought the loss of West and Estime noticeably hurt the offense. It’s not only the drops. It’s the inability for receivers to get open. Hunt was only sacked once, but too often he had to throw the ball away or use his legs to salvage the play. Second, Syracuse needs to get defensive stops on third down, something it has done a good job on this season. The Orange could get really worn down if Williams has his way and the Eagles dominate the time of possession. Also, good third down defense would prevent Williams from having a 30-35 carry game, like he’s done so often this season.
MM: Going back to the last question; Syracuse needs to stop Williams. That doesn't mean hold him to 30 or 40 yards, just keep him relatively contained while forcing the Eagles into situations like third down and five. Williams will get a ton of carries regardless of how successful he is, so keep his yards-per-carry to something like 3 and the Orange will absolutely have a shot.
DL: Limit Williams' effectiveness as much as possible, force BC into long third downs, and somehow hit some of those big plays that nearly broke the game open against Pitt. Hunt threw the ball downfield better on Saturday than he has all year. If that's a sign of some solid progression, Syracuse might have a shot.
JC: Stop Williams, which will be a task, for sure. From there, execute on offense during the limited possessions they'll get. BC's offensive style will remind you of Pitt's -- lengthy possessions to slow down the pace Syracuse tries to inject into the game. If the Orange can continue on the positive offensive strides from last week and complete more passes down field, perhaps they force the Eagles into a shootout (unlikely, but we can dream).
What's the key to the Eagles taking down the Orange in this renewed rivalry game?
SF: Keep running the ball well and stop Jerome Smith. Neither quarterbacks are stellar so if BC can dominate these two facets of the game, they win.
MM: (I hate that this is called a "rivalry" by the fans. Proximity alone a rival does not make. I mean, I can't tell you how many "blah" games these two played against each other over the last two decades. But I guess all this realignment garbage makes people pine for the way things used to be, and it makes people revisionists, too. But outside of the Diamond Ferry Game, there really isn't anything memorable about Syracuse playing the Eagles.) What's that? I ran out of space to answer this question? Wait, I ca...
DL: BC just needs to do BC. Pound the ball with Williams, keep the ball out of Syracuse's hands, and take the crowd out of the game early.
JC: Just keep running Andre Williams at Syracuse, and let him set up the passing game. Alex Amidon is still a dangerous receiver, and Chase Rettig will find him deep if given the opportunity. But against a broken-down Orange team, there's not much of a riddle for BC's success. Do what you've done for the past few weeks and things are likely to go your way.