Are we past last week's debacle yet? Following a miserable performance against Northwestern, things are a lot less optimistic around these parts. The Orange faithful are concerned about much of what comprises this team, and all those dreams of instant respectability in the ACC have been tabled for at least a week or two. This 0-2 record feels decidedly different than last year's, and in no way is that a positive.
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...
What was the most alarming part about Saturday's loss to Northwestern?
Andrew Pregler: I'm going to go with a lack of commitment to the run game. I probably sound like a broken record but the Orange have two very capable/above average running backs and a very average at best passing game. Syracuse won't win playing from behind in a gunfight. They're going to win with hardnosed football won in the trenches. They haven't done it yet or even shown the ability to and that's the most concerning aspect.
The Invisible Swordsman: I'm alarmed that the Big Ten Network seems to put our team in some Jim Delany-induced coma any time we show up to play a road game. We looked like we were sleepwalking through the first half, just like we were sleepwalking through our losses against Minnesota last year and Iowa back in 2008. Scott Shafer promised hard-nosed football, but those first 20 minutes were the least hard-nosed I'd seen in five years. Ugly!
Sean Farrell: For me, it was the defense, particularly in the secondary, coming off a pretty good game against Penn State. As bad as Drew Allen was, the offense still managed to score 27 points. I realize that SU’s defense had a difficult challenge going up against Northwestern, who scored 44 points against Cal. But a stat line of 30-37 by the two Wildcat QBs is just unacceptable. So is 10.1 yards per pass attempt. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough blitzed at every opportunity. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian weren’t fazed. The QB combo went 13-14 on these plays, according to Syracuse.com’s Michael Cohen. This actually makes a lot of sense. If the Syracuse defense allowed an 81 percent completion percentage on all plays, why would that number be any better on plays with fewer defenders left to cover?
Matt McClusky: How quickly it became apparent Syracuse wasn't going to win. Northwestern's offense, specifically Kain Colter, just ate Syracuse's secondary for dinner. And the thing is, like a lot of us, I didn't think Syracuse was going to win. But when the score was 34 - 7 in the first half, it was hard not to have flashbacks of Greg Robinson. The secondary is a major problem, but both sides of the ball and Scott Shafer and his staff got worked Saturday. That was disheartening and alarming.
Jared Smith: How quickly Syracuse was out of it. Look, I wasn't expecting the Orange to do a full 180 on offense, but the way Northwestern was able to march down the field on the opening drive on the defense, which never held its own ground and never kept the offense in it was discouraging. This team is going to win with defense and the offense figuring a way to score 20-plus points. Last Saturday, 50 or so seconds in, the game was over.
Sean Keeley: At the end of the day, as a middle-of-the-road team playing a Top 20 team on the road, not too much about the loss was alarming to me. Though I suppose the ease at which Northwestern pummeled us in the first half made me feel kinda helpless. That sinking feeling of so many seasons past began to creep in. That sense of, "Uh-oh, we are who we hope we weren't." But, maintaining some perspective, I'll be more alarmed by a loss in the next two games than this one.
John Cassillo: I can't remember the last time I felt so defeated so early in a Syracuse football game. Probably not since the Gerg era, which is saying a lot. Sadly, I knew we were done after that first score, when Northwestern just marched straight down the field in under a minute. it was demoralizing, shocking and depressing to think we were back in this sort of boat. Calling it "alarming" would be putting it mildly.
Which member of the coaching staff has the most to prove after two games?
AP: Any doubt it's George McDonald? He's running a system not fit for the current personnel and a lack of execution on the offensive front to this extent all season will be an embarrassment. These next two games have to show an understanding by McDonald.
TIS: Tim Daoust. I think Coach Daoust is our Special Teams coach, but there is currently no such listing for a special teams coach on the suathletics.com site. It appears that there's an assistant to the regional manager for special teams, but no one listed as being in charge. Makes sense given that it looked like no one was actually coaching them during the NU game. It's starting to feel like this has been a problem area for us for as long as free throws have dogged our hoops team, and it needs to get sorted out fast.
SF: The buck stops with the head coach. When you’re the tough and excitable defensive coordinator-turned-head coach, people want to love you. But if the team isn’t winning, people don’t buy it for too long. Just ask Rex Ryan.
MM: That's a tough question. George McDonald's offense has been...underwhelming. Chuck Bullough's defense looked good against Penn State and looked...underwhelming against Northwestern. And Scott Shafer hasn't exactly been the "eat thunder, crap lightning" coach we all kind of expected out of the gate. So, I'll cop out here and just say the entire staff still has a lot to prove. But luckily, and maybe this is the eternal optimist, there are a lot of games ahead of us to see what this staff is made of. I will say, given Shafer's "give 'em hell" style, I hope Syracuse hangs 75 on Wagner, just because.
JS: Head coach Scott Shafer because he eventually is the one making the decision on the quarterback situation and putting his players in the best position to win. So far, he has failed at that. Hopefully, the next two games are just what he needs to start figuring all this head coaching stuff out.
SK: I think you have to look at George McDonald and his offense. He's got some great weapons and most of them seem to be wasted so far. How can you have so few rushing yards with Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley et. al back there? How can you not find a rhythm with a host of talented receivers like Ashton Broyld, Jeremiah Kobena, Chris Clark and the tight ends? Sure, some of it falls on Drew Allen's shoulders for making mistakes, but, what can McDonald do to make his life even easier?
JC: Echoing everyone else who's questioned McDonald up to this point. Before the season, we were curious what his offense would look like. Two games in, we're just as curious. He's got a power running game that's not being put to use. He's got several above-average pass-catchers at his disposal and yet they don't run plays to get them the ball. When the offense continually threw to Ashton Broyld, things looked great, but they were predictable. We need a game plan, and what we've watched thus far doesn't qualify.
How does such a terrible start to the year impact your expectations for this season?
AP: This is still a six win team, especially considering the competition Syracuse has this season. However, without an offense that has the ability to march down the field and score, six wins looks much harder to obtain seeing that the Orange will have to find a way to defeat two teams of a Maryland/Pitt/NC State mix.
TIS: My expectations going into the season were .500 ball, and I did think that we'd go into the Wagner game 0-2 (and start 2-3). With that said, my expectations were that we'd progress as a team from week one to week two, and we have in-fact gone the other way. We have a lot of football left to play, and I still believe we can take six of the next ten games, but we have a lot of work to do to be competitive enough over the course of the season to achieve that result.
SF: These first two games still don’t sway my expectation that Syracuse is a 6-6 team. The Orange played what I expect will be two of the worst games of the season. Both came against pretty solid Big Ten opponents. This doesn’t make me doubt that SU can pick up wins when the team’s quality of play INCREASES and the quality of competition DECREASES. And there are a few bad teams headed our way.
MM: Hell, I'm the guy that took a ton of flack for merely suggesting SU may only win four games this season. In reality, I picked the Orange to win 5 games (with the possibility of six - I'm an optimist, guys) and I think they are still on track to get to that point. The Northwestern game was a bigger blowout than I expected, but come next month SU should be 2-2 with visions of the Belk Bowl still dancing in Orange fans heads.
JS: It is too early for me to be worried. I still think they will be alright. I figured there was a good chance this team would be 0-2 heading into Wagner and Tulane. I even mentioned this in my Terrell Hunt/Drew Allen column before the season. These next two games will tell us a lot and will give us an idea of where this team could be heading into the Clemson game and ACC play.
SK: As bad of a start as its been, I look ahead to what I expect to be a 2-2 season start and think, "We're right back where we were last year." Remember, four games into 2012, people were grumbling for Doug Marrone's head and calling for Ryan Nassib to be benched for Charley Loeb. History does not look kindly upon those Syracuse fans. I'd like to hope that, when we're 6-6 in December, we'll feel the same.
JC: The record's not overly surprising, it's just how we got there that kills. And that unfortunate road to 0-2 is also why I'm suddenly very pessimistic about Syracuse's bowl chances. With at least three more assured losses on the slate, there's very little room for error. How we perform against Wagner and Tulane should tell us a lot about whether six wins are attainable or not.
Are you in favor of Syracuse changing up its football uniforms yet again?
AP: I'm a big uniform fan and love what Nike has done as of late with their uniforms: simpler is better and leave the craziness to Adidas and Under Armor. That being said, I can guarantee these: 1) The Orange will get their own special font on the numbers that could be very gimmicky. 2) 44/The Express will be incorporated in some way. 3) There will be a matte/chrome incorporation in some way, probably an alternate helmet. I've always said the Orange should have an Orange top to wear with blue/white pants and I think a white helmet would look clean. We'll have to wait and see.
TIS: I am old school when it comes to uniforms, and I would like for the Orange to stay true to a very strict code (think 1959). Realistically though, I think Nike makes these decisions nowadays and we've hit that point where changing up and refreshing our uniform scheme will drive merchandise sales, and give some superficial excitement to the players and select fans. If given the choice between having a good football team or having a team with multiple uniform styles, I'm taking the former and not thinking twice about how we look or what color we wear.
SF: At this point, what the players wear is the least of my concern. I’m perfectly fine with the current uniforms, but I’m open to change… just as long as we’re not going back to this.
MM: You know, I'm not sure on this one. With hoops I'm always cool with it. I mean, ever since '93 Nike has had its way with Syracuse basketball. But football didn't start going a little Oregon with its gear until 2005. The very same year Greg Robinson entered all of our lives. So when Syracuse got the new field, and new uniforms, and new coach, and all the losing started, it always kind of felt like Bizzaro Syracuse. Another change sounds good (Don't F with the helmet! Unless it's a cool blue one.), but...God, 2005-2008 was rough.
JS: I currently like our football uniforms, so I hope there isn't too much tweaking to them. If Nike can come up with a better alternate home uniform, like an Orange one, that'd be cool, but I'd only like it if it looks good. The past Orange uniforms have been terrible, so I am a bit worried if they go they route.
SK: Sure. I've never been a huge fan of these uniforms, especially since it was a generic design that other schools wear as well. I'd love to see a unique uniform that really showcases the school colors (especially orange). I just don't want another generic design, or even worse, some Nike horror show.
JC: These uniforms are a bit plain, sure. But what's the problem with that? Alabama's unis are red and white and have been forever. USC's, Texas's, Michigan's, Ohio State's uniforms have all been virtually unchanged (save an alternate or two) for decades. Why change things? These current jerseys harken back to Syracuse's second golden age, which we should all be fans of, no? Just please to come out in highlighter orange on Saturday, please (unless it'll get recruits, then go for it!).
Biggest key to Wagner making Orange fans sweat profusely on Saturday?
AP: Rattle whoever is taking snaps. Both Hunt and Allen will take snaps full well knowing this is a two week audition process for ACC play. I'm not sure if this will negatively affect them coming into the game, but rushing the passer and forcing a QB package sub could do things to either Hunt or Allen.
TIS: After last weekend's game, just showing up will be enough. I'm already wearing my third shirt today, and it's only Thursday!
SF: Wagner senior running back Dominique Williams ran for 162 yards on 31 carries in a Week 1 win over Georgetown. If the Seahawks run the ball well and keep it a low possession game, they could be somewhat competitive. Don’t forget that Miguel Maysonet of Stony Brook proved last year against SU that FCS running backs can have major talent.
MM: Force Drew Allen into more mistakes. If Allen doesn't start getting "it," the crowd, all 25,000 of them, will amp up the pressure on him and the offense, and Shafer for that matter. Plus, mistakes by the favorites keep underdogs in the game. It's not Earth-shattering, but turnovers are always key and Syracuse, Allen, seems to have a big problem with giving the wrong guys the football.
JS: Forcing turnovers, bad decision by Drew Allen and scoring early. I think if the Seahawks can do that there will be an uneasy feeling in the Dome. Lets not forgot that the Orange have had some issues with FCS teams, so this may not be a cakewalk, especially since this Syracuse team is still trying to figure things out. All-in-all, I just want a freakin win and to move a step closer to making a bowl game.
SK: Get Dominque Williams going early and keep the game close headed into the 2nd half. Wagner has outscored its opponents 49-14 in the 2nd half so far. Sure, we're talking about Georgetown and Merrimack, but Syracuse hasn't exactly dominated most FCS opponents in recent seasons. Anything that keeps the score within 14 points is going to give us the dayterrors.
JC: On the first tipped pass at the line, I'm going to lose it. On the first interception (and there's going to be one), I'm going to start throwing things. If Wagner can get some pressure on Allen, I have zero faith we'll experience a calm afternoon as fans.
What part of our game should Syracuse be testing out against the inferior Seahawks?
AP: The Orange need to test a two QB system. Northwestern has shown that it can be effective when that's the skill set available. There's no reason not to try Allen in passing situations and run the pistol/option/spread with Hunt. I'd love to see if this positively/negatively affects either QB and if that system produces offensive cohesion.
TIS: The part where our running backs take hay to the barn or something like that... I want to take the pressure off Drew Allen and let our offense create 250+ yards on the ground on Saturday. Anything less would be uncivilized...
SF: I can’t believe I even have to say this, but I want to see Syracuse run the ball a lot. Drew Allen threw the ball 41 times last week and Jerome Smith (our best offensive weapon!) had only 11 carries. The Orange should play-call and design plays based around Smith. Good coaches don’t make their players fit a predetermined system; they make the system fit the players. Jim Boeheim picks certain players for a reason. Try running Smith out of the I-formation. Really, try anything. We’re playing Wagner, for Pete’s sake.
MM: EVERYTHING. Let it loose, fellas! It's freakin' Wagner.
JS: The quarterbacks. Syracuse QB coach, I believe, spilled the beans that Allen will start but Hunt will get some playing time. If Allen struggles AGAINST FREAKIN WAGNER and Hunt can come in and move the chains and score some points, then there needs to be a lot of thought about a changing of the guard at the QB position. I am not a guy to scream controversy, but Allen's play has been alarming, especially with so many bad, bad, BAD interceptions. If Hunt can come in and bring some stability, I am all aboard the Hunt train.
SK: Get that God damn running game going. DO IT.
JC: Try running an actual offense with an actual game plan. Specifically, running the football, which we should've been doing for the first two games already.